2001 World Press Freedom Review








Over the last few years, the press has become the main battlefield for political struggle in Iran, and journalists along with press freedom have become the main victims. During the course of 2001, Iran became the country with the largest number of imprisoned journalists in the world, with a high of 27 incarcerated media workers. The year saw a continuation of the crackdown against Iran’s independent press that began in 2000 after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused reformist publications of being "bases of the enemy" and ordered Parliament not to debate a motion to reform Iran’s draconian press laws.
By the end of 2001, more than 40 newspapers and journals had been banned. Many reformist journalists, editors and publishers were harassed, threatened, tortured and received prison sentences, and 18 were still in jail by year’s end, according to RSF.
Hassan Youssefi Echkevari, theologian and contributor to now banned newspapers such as Adineh, Neshat and Iran-é farda, has been in jail since 5 August 2000. He was prosecuted, like seven other journalists and intellectuals, for his participation in the 2000 Berlin conference, organised by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which has close ties to Germany’s Green party.
The conference was called to discuss the progress of reform in Iran. Echkevari was accused of being a "threat to national security" and of being a "mohareb" (fighter against God), making him liable to the death penalty. An Iranian appeals court overturned the "mohareb" charges and thus the death sentence against Echkevari on 19 May 2001. There were a few other dispersed signs of improvement in the media climate towards the end of the year, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the crackdown on the press is far from over.
On 13 January an Iranian court sentenced editor Akbar Ganji and six other reform activists to up to 10 years in prison for their part in the 2000 Berlin conference on political change in Iran. The sentences were a confirmation that the crackdown by the conservative-dominated judiciary and political establishment has all but wiped out liberal reforms introduced by moderate President Mohammad Khatami. Ganji, editor of the Fath (Victory) newspaper, was jailed for 10 years – four years for his part in the conference, four years for possessing a confidential government bulletin, 18 months for insulting the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and six months for spreading propaganda against the Islamic system.
The sentences drew outrage and criticism from around the world, even from top levels of the moderate pro-reform establishment in Iran itself, "Those people who attended the Berlin conference did not commit a crime and their treatment by the judiciary was wholly factional and politically motivated," Iran News quoted Mohammad Reza Khatami, the president's brother and the leader of the largest party in Iran’s parliament, as saying. That fact alone goes a long way to show the powerlessness of the electorate, which has twice given Khatami’s party an absolute majority in Parliament.
As a campaigning investigative journalist, Ganji had alleged high-level involvement in the so-called serial murders of dissidents. Reports he wrote on official wrongdoing became national best sellers. Ganji said at his trial he was told by the Intelligence Ministry not to look further than mid-level security agents when investigating the 1998 killings of dissident intellectuals. Nor was he to dig into events before President Khatami’s 1997 election. The agents, threatened him with jail if he did. "The decision to imprison me was taken beforehand and this court is just a pretext. You know this as well as I do," Ganji told the judge. "The political will exists to put me behind bars and you are just sitting there to carry this out." He was reportedly subjected to torture while awaiting sentencing. Six other defendants were given jail terms ranging between four and 10 years. On 15 May Ganji was cleared of three convictions by a Tehran appeals court, reducing his prison sentence from 10 years to six months. The court also overturned the further five years of internal exile that Ganji had been ordered to serve (in a remote southern town) in addition to his prison sentence. The convictions against him that were quashed included ‘harming national security’ and ‘keeping classified documents’.
However, the court upheld a verdict of ‘insulting authorities’ and deliberated further charges. It confusingly set bail at US $75,000 for his release from prison for the charge of insult, but refused to accept bail for the other charges. (The average monthly salary in Iran is US $100.) The court later changed its mind on the verdict, extending the sentence to a 15 months. On 17 June Ganji’s wife pleaded with President Khatami in an open letter to help protect him against severe treatment by hardline courts. She said, " …Ganji has been kept in solitary confinement for 108 days of his 15 months in prison… He has not been allowed any visits in nine months. In the past three weeks he has been quarantined alone in a basement of Evin Prison." The letter was published and publicised in foreign media since "Iranian newspapers are censoring my comments because they are afraid of being closed. This leaves me no choice but to turn to the foreign media."
On 10 July a new detention order was issued by the Press Court. The new charges against Ganji included "spreading propaganda against the state", "insulting religious sanctities" and defamation. Six days later the Revolutionary Court sentenced Ganji to six years in prison. Ezatollah Sahabi, the 75-year-old editor of Iran-é Farda, was imprisoned on 17 December 2000. Charged with taking part in the Berlin conference he was sentenced along with Ganji and others on 13 January to four years' imprisonment.
On 27 January, a military court sentenced three secret police agents to death and 12 others to terms of up to life in prison for their part in the 1998 murders of secular dissidents that had shocked the country. Yet families of four murdered dissidents said they opposed death sentences for the three agents convicted of killing their relatives. They also opposed any jail sentences. Under Iran’s Islamic Sharia law, relatives of murder victims have the right to overturn death sentences. The families demanded an end to extra-judicial killings and said they were more concerned that the truth behind the killings be brought to light than exacting revenge on the killers.
Members of Iran’s reform movement have alleged that prosecutors have ignored links to high-ranking clerics and intelligence officials and pursued only a few low-level defendants as part of a cover-up. They say the killings were among more than 80 murders and "disappearances" stretching over 10 years as part of a campaign by state-sponsored death squads to silence opposition. The victims’ families boycotted the closed-door trial in protest against the gag order imposed by the judiciary and what they said was the removal of key evidence from court files.
Reformist journalist Ibrahim Nabavi was sentenced to eight months' imprisonment for "deceptive publications, insults against officials of the regime and unfounded accusations" on 10 January, according to RSF. A contributor to banned newspapers Jameh and Tous, Nabavi was arrested on 12 August 2000, and released on bail on 18 November. The day of his arrest, he received a prize as best political humorist.
On 17 January, Iran’s hardline judiciary closed down a magazine that helped launch the contemporary reform movement. The monthly Kian, which was intellectual and philosophical in outlook and had a limited circulation, was banned for "publishing lies in order to incite public opinion" and "insulting religious sanctities". Abdolkarim Soroush, a leading reformist philosopher vilified by hardliners for his liberal views, was a regular contributor to the magazine. Kian was instrumental in developing the idea of a civil society within a religious state – a concept Khatami later championed in his 1997 election campaign. Kian’s articles were serious and academic in tone and avoided factional political conflict. The magazine presented diverse interpretations of Islamic law and promoted open debate on religious and philosophical questions.
Hoda Saber, editor of the banned Iran-é Farda monthly magazine was jailed after being interrogated on undisclosed charges on 29 January. The monthly, which advocated democracy and greater tolerance in Iran, was closed down in 2000. Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Court seized books, documents and family pictures from Saber’s home on 7 February. His wife said he was still being denied access to his lawyer and that the nature of the charges against him remained unclear. The court had earlier seized documents from the offices of Iran-é Farda.
Another journalist, Naqi Afshari, was freed on bail on the following day, two days after being arrested for allegedly lampooning the judiciary. Afshari, father of imprisoned student leader Ali Afshari, was running Hadis, a weekly newspaper in the northwestern town of Qazvin. The paper was banned on the day of his arrest. Ali Afshari was sentenced earlier to four and a half years in prison for taking part in the Berlin conference. He received another six months on a related charge.
Mohammad Hassan Alipour, publisher of the outspoken weekly Aban, which was shut down in 2000, was charged on 30 January with 39 counts of spreading lies, inciting corruption, insulting religious sanctities and spreading propaganda against the state. On 11 March Alipour was given a six-month suspended sentence and was banned from working for the press for five years. He was convicted of "spreading lies to disturb public opinion". In July an appeal court nullified the jail sentence and lifted the five-year ban on his press activities. The appeal court also cut down to one-third a US $1,200 fine against the publisher.
On 31 January reformist Ahmad Zeydabadi, an outspoken Iranian journalist held in prison on a "temporary" detention order for more than five months, went on a hunger strike. Zeydabadi’s wife said he had gone on the hunger strike after spending more than five months in prison without trial to protest prison conditions. After a week of fasting, Zeydabadi was reportedly taken to the prison hospital with internal bleeding.
On the same day, Iranian newspapers reported that the publisher of the banned reformist daily Payam-e Azadi (Message of Freedom) was summoned to the hardline press courts. Details of charges against the newspaper remained unclear.
On 4 February, Reuters reported it had withdrawn its bureau chief in Tehran, Jonathan Lyons, after Iranian authorities made allegations against Lyons and threatened Reuters with unspecified action following the publication of an interview by Lyons of Akbar Ganji, which ran on January 22 under the headline "Iranian Reformer Warns of Political Explosion". Reuters said it "did not feel it had the guarantees it needed of Lyons’ continued well-being in Tehran". Lyons’ wife, Geneive Abdo, a journalist for The Guardian and the International Herald Tribune left Iran on 3 February. Abdo explained they left because they were threatened by the authorities with possible prosecution for violating a law which makes it illegal to interview a political prisoner.
On 23 January, the International Herald Tribune published the interview with Ganji. In it, he talked about a "possible backlash of the [Iranian] conservative establishment". The general director of the foreign press, Mohammad-Reza Khochvaght, explained that "these two journalists acted in contradiction with rules and ethics and distorted Ganji’s statements". On 4 February, the Ministry of Culture announced that Lyons was barred from returning to Tehran.
On 12 February, hardline Iranian bodies renewed the death sentence against Salman Rushdie ahead of the 12th anniversary of the "fatwa" against the British author issued by former supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. "We ask world Moslems to carry out this divine edict and cleanse the world of such mercenary Satans," the Islamic Propagation Organisation said in a statement quoted by the IRNA news agency. The elite Revolutionary Guards also issued a statement in support of the fatwa against the Indian-born writer for alleged blasphemy against Islam in his novel "The Satanic Verses". The calls came despite a 1998 pledge by the Iranian government not to seek to carry out the fatwa, a move that led to warmer ties with the West. Ignoring the pledge, a hardline Iranian foundation in 2000 offered to add interest to its US $2.8 million bounty on Rushdie’s head.
On the same day, according to RSF, Mohammad-Bagher Vali-Beik, general manager of Jamée-é Rouz, a major publishing company that for three years published most of the reformist newspapers that are currently banned, was arrested and imprisoned in Tehran.
Iran's hardline press court jailed Abbas Dalvand, editor and publisher of provincial newspaper the Lorestan weekly on 13 February. Dalvand was accused of slandering several hardline institutions, including the Revolutionary Guards and the security branch of the police forces. Dalvand told IRNA before going to jail that he had been given little time to prepare a defence and he protested against the order to imprison him. In a rare move, the judge allowed the weekly to continue publishing provided it did not report on the case against its editor and publisher. Dalvand was released on bail on 18 February.
On 9 May Dalvand was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment and banned from practising his profession for a further three years. The publisher of another weekly in the western city of Zanjan also stood trial on 12 February, but he was acquitted by a jury, IRNA said.
Fariba Davoudi was arrested on 15 February by agents of the Revolutionary Court who searched her residence for seven hours and seized a large number of documents. She worked at the now-banned reformist newspapers Khordad and Fath before moving on to Hambastegi. A reformist Member of Parliament, Fatemeh Haqiqatju, later sharply criticised the revolutionary court for the "violent" arrest of Davoudi. "Armed agents coming for her arrest resorted to force and violence. They yanked her chador (veil) off her, squeezed her in the door frame and then searched her and her daughter’s bedrooms," she said. Haqiqatju also said that jailed dissidents were being tortured by Iranian interrogators. Davoudi was finally released from jail on 12 March.
Davoud Allah-Verdi, Daryoush Imani and Mohammad Bazgir, journalists with the daily Ruzdara, were given prison sentences on 24 February ranging from three months and seven days to five and a half months for a slanderous article. The three journalists, who were given 20 days to appeal, were not detained, according to RSF.
In a further political move that later backfired, a court banned conservative weekly Harim on 8 March, accusing it of mocking President Khatami and his reform programme. The newspaper’s publisher, Hassan Akhtari, was ordered to stand trial for the alleged crime. It was one of very few hardline publications banned in Iran. On 11 March, Khatami himself sharply criticised the closure of the hardline newspaper accused of insulting him.
"I am not happy at all to see a newspaper closed on the pretext that it insulted the president," Khatami said in a speech to parliament. "Where does the law say to close a newspaper for insulting the president? If we interpret any satire and criticism as insult, it will ruin the climate for press activity," he said in remarks broadcast by state radio. Khatami, who does not control the conservative-run judiciary, pleaded for an open trial for Harim's publisher "in the presence of a jury as soon as possible. The desire to read newspapers cannot be suppressed," Khatami continued. "If we don't create the right climate, then people will turn to sources we have no control over," he added, referring to foreign media. Iran's press guild also criticised the closure of the hardline weekly.
On 11 March, Reuters reported that the wife of an imprisoned journalist had sent a letter to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi inquiring after her husband’s whereabouts. Parvin Bakhtiari-Nejad said her husband, Reza Alijani, editor-in-chief of the suspended reformist monthly Iran-é Farda (Iran Tomorrow), had been hauled away from their home without a warrant in February and that she had not been allowed to contact him. "My children and I have not even been allowed to speak to him by phone. What am I to tell my three-year-old child who keeps asking about his father?" she said, quoted by IRNA. Alijani was finally released on bail on 16 December, after 295 days without trial. The charges against him include acting "against state security".
Also on 11 March, security agents raided a reformist meeting and arrested Ahmad Zeid-Abadi of Iran-é Farda, Taghi Rahmani, journalist with banned reformist weekly Omid-é Zangan, Faremeh Govaraï, also of Omid-é Zangan, Ali-Reza Redjaï and Mohammad Bastehnaghar of suspended daily Asr-é Azadegan, and Morteza Khazemian and Reza Raïs-Toussi of suspended daily Fath, along with several others, according to RSF. Although Zeid-Abadi and Govaraï were released the following day, Rahmani remained in detention. On the following day, the head of the Tehran Revolutionary Court stated that "the detainees were conspiring to overthrow the Islamic government". Arrested on 7 August 2000, Zeid-Abadi had been released on bail on 28 February. He was being charged with, among other things, "defaming the Islamic Republic’s Guide", Khamenei, "publicly insulting" the republic’s founder, Imam Khomeini, and "anti-Islamic propaganda".
According to RSF, on 18 March the daily Dorran-é Emrouz, two weekly newspapers, Mobine and Jamée-Madani, and the monthly Peyam-é-Emrouz were ordered by the judiciary to stop publishing. Proceedings were launched against the four newspapers’ publishers or managers: Hamid-Reza Zahedi-Kohnegourabi of Dorran-é Emrouz, Mohammad Gharibani of Mobine, Mahmoud Raoufi of Jamée-Madani and Mohammad Zahedi-Asl of Peyam-é Emrouz.
On 7 April, 42 persons were arrested and placed in custody, including Reza Tehrani, editor-in-chief of the banned Kian, Fazlollah Salavati, editor-in-chief of banned weekly Navid-é-Esfahan, Saide Madani of the suspended bimonthly Iran-é-Farda, and Hossein Rafiei, a university professor and publisher of the monthly Shimi va Toseeh (Chemistry and Development). The suspects were all charged with "collaborating with counter-revolutionary groups". They all had connections to the Movement for the Liberation of Iran (MLI), a progressive Islamic party that was banned in March.
In a statement carried by television, Ali Mobasheri, head of Tehran’s revolutionary court, accused the suspects of seeking to overthrow the Islamic state. Again, Iran’s president voiced his opposition, "I do not see such measures as benefiting the (Islamic) system and people... I cannot help feeling regret", state television quoted President Khatami as saying. "Boosting the climate of intolerance in society will dishearten intellectuals... Our nation desires nothing more than freedom, progress and guaranteed rights."
Security forces raided the offices of Rafiei’s journal on 16 April. Documents and computers were seized at the Tehran offices of Shimi va Toseeh. On 15 April, according to RSF, Hamid Kaviani, a journalist from the suspended daily Salam, was abducted for several hours, beaten and released. He was later hospitalised with serious injuries. On 21 May, Kaviani again disappeared in the street in Tehran. In June 2000, Kaviani had appeared before the Special Court for Clergy because of his book, "The Pursuit of the Criminals", an investigation into the murders of opponents in late 1998. Like Ganiji, Kaviani implicated members of the Intelligence Ministry.
Hechmatollah Tabarzadi, editor-in-chief of the daily Hoviyat-é Khich and student leader, was arrested and imprisoned in Tehran on 17 April. This latest incarceration brought the number of imprisoned journalists in Iran to 21, making the country the largest prison in the world for journalists, according to RSF.
On 21 April, Amid Naini, editor-in-chief of banned monthly Peyam-é Emrouz (Today's Message), was arrested and jailed for publishing an article denouncing the recital of verses from the Koran as a "superstitious practice", and another article describing the angel Gabriel - who, according to Islam, dictated the Koran to the prophet Mohamed - as an "imaginary creature". Naini was released in July on US $25,250 bail after spending nearly three months in "temporary" confinement. On 7 May, a ban against Arya, a reformist newspaper, was lifted and an appeal by its publisher, Mohammad Reza Zohdi, who was convicted in 2000 by a hardline press court, was upheld.
Several new independent dailies also hit Iranian news stands ahead of presidential elections on 8 June, but there were no indications that bans on 35 other publications might be lifted. The appeals court had struck down a four-month prison sentence issued in July 2000 against Zohdi. But the court upheld a two-year ban on Zohdi preventing him from working in the media and imposed fines on him. Two days later, on 9 May, an Iranian court banned a newspaper. The ban came only five days after it had been launched by a leading reformist.
On the same day Hamid Jafari-Nasrabadi, student head of magazine Kavir, and Mahmoud Mojdayi , a journalist with the same newspaper, were arrested in Tehran after being interrogated for several hours by Tehran’s press court judge. They were accused of publishing a "blasphemous" article in which they had used an "indecent tone" against several state institutions. In Iran, someone found guilty of deliberate blasphemy may face the death sentence. Tehran’s press court judge at the same time banned the newspaper. On 28 May, two more Kavir journalists, Reza Nadimi and Mehdi Amini, were detained pending trial for the same article. All four student journalists were still in jail at the end of the year.
Between 8 and 13 May, police closed down more than 400 Internet cafes in Tehran, demanding that the owners obtain licences to stay in business. Owners said telecommunications authorities had banned the use of Internet sites offering cheap telephone connections to relatives abroad, citing a state monopoly on long distance calls. Some 1,500 Internet cafes are dotted across Tehran, with more in other major cities. The cafes are popular with the overwhelmingly youthful population in the Islamic republic, not least since the state and private media are so tightly controlled by conservatives. However, each Iranian Internet user must sign a written agreement when signing up for an Internet connection, which states that s/he will not surf non-Islamic sites.
Jailed editor Mashallah Shamsolvaezin was transferred to solitary confinement on May 17, according to CPJ. He was also summoned around this time by Teheran’s Press Court for questioning about his alleged ties with opposition figures, several of whom had been arrested in the previous weeks. Shamsolvaezin, editor of several now-banned Iranian reformist dailies, was jailed in April 2000 after being sentenced to 30 months imprisonment for the crime of "insulting Islamic principles". The editor was prosecuted for publishing an article that criticised capital punishment in Iran.
On 21 May, the Entekhab newspaper reported that a 35-year-old Iranian woman had been buried up to her armpits and stoned to death by court officials for producing and acting in obscene films. She denied the charges, but evidence and testimony from witnesses led the judge to issue the maximum sentence allowed under Islamic sharia law, the paper said. She was stoned by court officers at Tehran’s Evin Prison in the presence of the judge who tried her case. Stoning is a relatively rare punishment in Iran, where drug smugglers and murderers are usually hanged.
Gholamheydar Ebrahim-bay Salami, Member of Parliament and an influential member of the reformist Hambastegi (Solidarity) party, as well as publisher of the Hambastegi newspaper, was indicted by the hardline press court on 22 May. Details of the charges against Salami were not made public. He was released on bail pending further investigation after being interrogated. Those who lodged complaints against Salami included the state broadcast monopoly, the police, the Revolutionary Guards and Kayhan newspaper, all led by hardliners allied to Khamenei. Tehran’s justice department chief also filed a 120-page complaint against Hambastegi, which was one of the first major pro-reform newspapers to open after a wave of closures in 2000.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said on 10 June that its correspondent John Simpson and two colleagues had been arrested by secret police in Tehran on the previous night and then released after three-and-a-half hours. Simpson was covering a celebration by supporters of President Khatami, re-elected with a 77 per cent majority on 8 June. The BBC said secret policemen who oppose Khatami mingled with the crowds, taking names, filming them with video cameras and using strong-arm tactics against foreign journalists. It said one secret policeman dug his finger into Simpson’s eye, narrowly missing the pupil with his fingernail. The team was held for three-and-a-half hours at a police station before being released. The Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance said it intervened to get the three released.
On 23 June, Iran’s reformist-dominated Parliament passed the outline of a bill to make radio and television more accountable to the public, in effect turning state broadcaster, IRIB, into a public broadcaster. The bill calls for a broad-based board to set policy for IRIB. Members of the board would come from different parts of society, including Parliament, government, the press, universities and religious schools. However, the bill required a second reading in Parliament and approval by the Guardian Council, a conservative body which vets legislation before becoming law.
On July 9, the former editor-in-chief of English-language daily Iran News, Morteza Firoozi, was released on parole after four years in solitary confinement after being found guilty of espionage. He was freed before completing a five-year sentence. Firoozi had been held since mid-1997 and was sentenced to death in January 1998 on charges including espionage for foreign countries, but the Supreme Court revoked the death sentence.
On 27 October, Iranian police renewed a crackdown on satellite dishes after authorities blamed riots on television broadcasts from the USA by exiled opposition groups. Hundreds of dishes were removed from homes in the capital Tehran as part of a campaign against "social vice". Soccer fans had taken to the streets after three international games, damaging property and chanting slogans against Iran’s Islamic leaders. Hundreds of people, mainly youths, were arrested. Iran outlawed satellite dishes in the mid-1990s as part of efforts to curb the inroads of "decadent" Western culture. But the ban had largely been ignored since the 1997 election of President Khatami.
On 30 October, Jafar Karami, director of Amin-é Zanjan, was sentenced to 91 days imprisonment and his weekly newspaper was suspended due to the publication of articles that were "insulting [to] the highest dignitaries and the Islamic government" and incitement "to dissension between the different strata of the population". The director’s sentence was finally commuted to a two-year suspended sentence because of severe injuries the journalist suffered during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. Abbas Rashad, the editor-in-chief of Amin-é Zanjan, was sentenced to 30 lashes, a fine equivalent to several hundred US dollars, and a three-year ban on practising his profession, on 9 December. The journalist was charged with "insulting the justice department", according to RSF.
Issa Khandan, head of the social service of two dailies, Khordad and Fath, was arrested on 10 November by the Clergy Court. His wife stated that she does not know the reason for his arrest.
Siamak Pourzand, aged 70 and a diabetic with a heart condition, went missing on 24 November. There were unconfirmed reports that he had been arrested by Iranian intelligence services. In previous weeks he had worked with US-based Iranian opposition radio stations. According to Amnesty International, the journalist’s disappearance was connected with his position as manager of a Tehran cultural centre for artists, intellectuals and writers. The journalist was well-known for his articles against the Islamic regime. Pourzand is the husband of human rights lawyer Mehrangiz Kar, who was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for her participation at the Berlin conference. She is currently free on bail and receiving cancer treatment in the USA.
The newspaper Mellat was suspended by authorities on 29 November, reportedly to prevent "offensive measures aimed at creating tension and insecurity in the climate of the country’s press." Distribution of the newspaper was previously suspended on 23 May 2000, a day after its first issue was published.
On 27 November, financial daily Akhbar-é Eghtessadi was banned from publishing. The Press Court, presided by Judge Saïd Mortazi, noted that according to the law the newspaper, published in 1997 and 1998 under the names Akhbar and Akhbar-é Eghtessadi, had previously been banned by the court and could not be published again. The daily was suspended in 2000. Neda-ye-hormozgan, a reformist weekly, was closed on 13 December. Its editor, Gholam-Hossein Ataiee, was given a five-year suspended jail sentence and fined US$8,600. The charges against him are unknown.
Reformist weekly Asr-e-Ma was shut down by the authorities on 15 December, and its publisher, Mohammad Salamati, was sentenced to twenty-six months’ imprisonment. He is still free pending appeal. He was accused of spreading a rumour in December 2000 to the effect that an attempt had been made to overthrow President Khatami. He had told a meeting of students that conservatives had "put a resolution before the Supreme Court" charging that Khatami was "incompetent" to govern. The "rumour" was denied by a government source. A legal official, Abassalki Alizadeh, then lodged a formal complaint against Salamati for having published an article on 12 December 2000 in which the journalist criticised "the way in which radio, television and the legal authorities" had reacted to his statements.
On 22 December, authorities from the University of Ferdossi in northeastern Iran ordered the permanent closure of student magazine Nazar, which was close to the reform movement and edited by Javad Seifi Abdolabad, who now faces a disciplinary committee. The reasons for the closure are still unknown.
Ahmad Gabel, a journalist for Hayat-é No, was arrested on 31 December on orders of the Special Court for the Clergy. Gabel also wrote editorials in many reformist publications and regularly gave interviews to foreign radio stations, according to RSF. He is known for his strong criticism of the conservative guard, most notably of Ali Khamenei. Only hours before Gabel’s arrest, Radio Freedom had interviewed him.
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2000 World Press Freedom Review
An apocalypse occurred at the end of the millennium not in the Christian world but in the Islamic Republic in the shape of the crack down of the press. Indeed, this year was one of the worst years concerning freedom of expression in Iran. The closure of newspapers and the imprisonment of journalists started as a wave in the last three months of 1999 and came to its peak in April. While the reformist President Khatami kept silent the conservatives damaged the hopes that arose from the victory of the religious reformists in the presidential elections (1996), in the municipality council elections (1999) and in the parliamentary elections (November 1999).
Since the start of 1999, eight journalists have been arrested and three of them, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, editor-in-chief of the banned dailies Jameh, Tous and Neshat; Latif Saffari, managing director of Neshat and Abdollah Nouri, managing director of Khordad and former interior minister, are still in prison.
On 6 January, Said Hajarian, managing director of the pro-reform daily Sobh-e Emrooz and close advisor of President Khatami, appeared in a Teheran Press Court. Hajarian is one of the leaders of the pro-Khatami "Islamic Participation Front". He was deputy minister and one of the founders of the ministry of information (security police) during the 1980s. He was accused of having "disclosed confidential information". Sobh-e Emrooz published some articles about "serial murders" within Iran. On the basis of corroborated evidence, during the 20 years of Islamic government more than 80 dissidents and intellectuals disappeared or were murdered at home or in the street. By the end of 1998, two distinguished political dissidents and three writers had been killed.
These cases were discussed in the reformist newspapers. Under the pressure of reformists and the media, the ministry of information was forced to admit that "rogue" elements from within the information ministry were responsible for the killings. This statement failed to convince anybody and some journalists asked for a further investigation. The case became one of the most acute conflicts between religious reformists and conservatives in Iran. After the court hearing on 14 March three hard-liners opened fire at Hajarian. He was not killed but is now forced to live in a wheel chair.
On 16 January, Yadollah Eslami, Ghafour Garchasebi and Hajarian from the dailies Fath, Asr-e Azadegan and Sobh Emrooz were summoned to the conservative dominated Press Court. They were persecuted because of having reprinted an interview with Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Montazeri published in The Guardian on 13 January. Montazeri is one of the greatest theologians and religious authorities in Iran. Because of his criticism he has been under house arrest since 1998
In February, Nik Ahang Kowsar, a cartoonist was held in custody awaiting a hearing before the press court because of one of his cartoons. The conservatives made a demonstration in the Shi´te Moslem holy city of Qom and claimed that the cartoon attacked one of the religious conservatives authorities. The Demonstration was supported by the Revolutionary guards and hard-liners who asked for the resignation of Ataollah Mohajerani, the minister of culture.
On 20 April the Iranian religious leader, Seyyid Ali Khamenei, in a speech ordered a mass attack on the press. He said, "There are 10 to 15 papers writing as if they are directed from one centre undermining Islamic and revolutionary principles, insulting constitutional bodies and creating tension and discord in society. ... Unfortunately, the same enemy who wants to overthrow the [regime] has found a base in the country ... Some of the press have become the base of the enemy." He announced that he would not tolerate this situation any longer. The judiciary system reacted quickly. Within 10 days of the speech about 25 newspapers had been closed, including, Asr-e-Azadegan, Fat'h, Aftab-e-Emrooz, Arya, Gozaresh-e-Ruz, Bamdad-e-No, Payam-e-Azadi, Azad, Payam-e-Hajar, Aban, Arzesh, Iran-e-Farda, Sobh-e-Emrooz, Akhbar Eqtesad, Jebheh, Mosharekat, Awa Gozaresh-e Rouz, Ham´mihan, Khordad, Bayan.
In a statement the judicial authorities accused the reformist and independent press of, "continuing to publish articles against the bases of the luminous ordinances of Islam and the religious sanctities of the noble people of Iran and the pillars of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic". In this statement, the judiciary authorities announced that the newspapers had been closed in order to, "prevent them from committing new offences, from affecting society’s opinions and arousing concern among the people".
Throughout this year, Iran saw owners, managing directors, editor-in-chiefs and journalists of the banned newspapers being called to appear before the Special Clergy Court, the Revolutionary Court and the Press Court. All of these courts are dominated by the conservatives. In spite of the fact that the ministry of Culture supported the reforms it also occasionally closed some newspapers without trial.
On 22 April Akbar Ganji, a popular investigator journalist, who followed the serial murders and has written for Sobh-e Emrooz and Asr-e Azadegan as well as some other newspapers, was arrested by the revolutionary court and imprisoned. The case was reminiscent of the cases of Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, arrested in 1999, Mohsen Kadivar, a high clergy, arrested in 1999, and Abdollah Nuri.
One day later, on 23 April, Latif Safari, director of the banned daily Neshat (closed in September 1999), was sentenced to a 30-month jail sentence on charges of, "insulting the sanctity and tenets of Islam". The basis of this charge was an article that questioned capital punishment in Iran.
In late April, the judiciary started to prepare the trials against reformist and independent journalists. Even the daily Mosharekat, published by the brother of the president and the director of Islamic Participation Front, was banned and Mohammad Reza Khatami was summoned to court. Prior to this development, a famous journalist Emadoldin Baghi, an investigator journalist and close friend of the president was sentenced to more than five years in prison. His book "Tragedy of Democracy" was confiscated from the book-shops and burnt. This attack on the press continued throughout the whole year while the reformist president and some of the top reformists kept silent. Some radical reformists – some of them are close to Khatami and the Deputies of Parliament – criticised the compromise made between the President, top reformists and conservatives. Some others complained that the president did not have enough power to stop the crack-down and guarantee freedom of the press.
Some commentators believe that the April crackdown was the reaction of the conservatives against the victory of the reformists in the parliamentary elections. In the absence of political parties, trade unions and NGOs in Iran, the press has played a very important role. Most of the popular press that appeared after the presidential elections was controlled by religious reformists. Some of them gave space to non-religious reformists, liberal journalists and writers. A few independent monthly magazines were given permission to be published. Religious reformists put most of their efforts into reaching the people through the press. However, the army, the Revolutionary guards and the security police, economically powerful foundations, remained in the hands of the conservatives. The president insisted on the rule of the law but the Iranian Constitution (suffering from a conflict between democracy and despotism) gave enormous power to the religious leader and religious institutions such as the Islamic Guardian Council. In the parliamentary elections, the press played a decisive role. The articles of Ganji and Baqi that highlighted the role of the former president in the serial murders were one of the reasons why the Ex-President and his daughter were not elected as one of the 30 Deputies of Teheran.
Other commentators believe that a group of the top reformists including the president are worried because the freedom of press may destroy the whole Islamic system. Some of the reformist leaders criticised the press and charged them with being extremists. They stated that Iranian reforms should not share the same fate as the Soviet Union and the Eastern Block. They sought a moderate press. This tendency, the president belongs to this group, withdrew their support for the reformist press and gave the judiciary authorities a free hand to close the newspapers and arrest the journalists. The minister of culture Ataollah Mohajerani, one of the distinguished reformist figures and a supporter of the religious reformist press, criticised some of the press because they published writers and journalists who did not belong to one of the wings of the government. His position revealed the paradoxical nature of religious reform in Iran. Religious reformists are trying to achieve some reform within the framework of Islam, but at the same time they want to exclude non-religious reformists, liberal tendencies and all those asking for a separation of powers between religion and government.
The majority of Iranians have placed immense pressure on journalists to publish news and different point of views. This is because only the press in Iran has the opportunity to act as the voice of the people.
As a reaction to this crackdown, the majority of Parliament decided to amend the Press Law to benefit freedom of the Press. The April crackdown was based on the Press law. The former Parliament, dominated by the conservatives, passed a new press law to strengthen the penalties against the press. The prohibitions in this press law are drafted so widely that it could include anything. On the basis of this law not only the ministry of culture and press court but also the revolutionary court, the ministry of information, the public court, clergy court and some other authorities have control over the press and can arrest journalists and close their newspapers. This law stipulates that the press "must be faithful to the Islamic Revolution". The new law also gave the state security court the power to close any newspaper immediately for a two-month-period without announcing any reason. On the basis of this law, "the members and sympathisers of counter-revolutionary groups or illegal political formations, as well as persons who are sentenced by revolutionary courts for "acting against the internal security of the state and disparaging the holy order of the Islamic Republic.", or those who spread propaganda hostile to the Islamic regime, are not authorised to be employed by a publication under any circumstances".
Furthermore, the new law requires, "the Information and Justice Ministries' and the police's pre-authorisation". Previously, only the ministry of culture's approval was required. In addition, responsibility for articles no longer rests solely with the managing editor of a newspaper, but can also be attributed to the author of an article. This law forbids, "the publication of articles which are critical of the constitution." In this law judges of the different courts of the judiciary system are authorised to interpret and decide which article or news is against Islamic law.
As this press law was the foundation for the April crackdown, the new parliament decided to amend it. It was clear that the amendments would benefit freedom of press because of a majority of votes in parliaments. However, it was unforeseen that the High Council of Guardians would make use of its veto against the amendments; but, on the day that Parliament wanted to discuss the amendments, a letter from the religious leader was read by the parliament speaker, Mehdi Kaaroubi, in which the religious leader forbade any amendments and discussion about the press law. He wrote, "If the enemies infiltrate our press, this will be a big danger to the country's security and the people's religious beliefs. I do not deem it right to keep silent ... The present press law has succeeded to a point to prevent this big plague. The (proposed amended) bill is not legitimate and in the interests of the system and the revolution." Answering those deputies who criticised the speech, the speaker said, "Our constitution has the elements of the absolute rule of the supreme clerical leader and you all know this and approve of this. We are all duty-bound to abide by it".
After this incident, one of the newspapers published an article about a meeting between the religious leader, the president, the speaker of Parliament, the chair of the judiciary system and the chair of the High Consulting Council (Ex-president Rafsanjani). In this article, the reporter said all decisions about the crack down in April had already been decided before the hearing in parliament. As a result the crackdown began to gain momentum.
The April crackdown and the ban of discussion in the parliament about the press law were founded on the conservative interpretation of the Islamic Constitutional Law. This law also claims to include freedom of speech. This contradiction in law is an expression of the contradiction between democracy and despotism and modernity and tradition in Iran that exists not only in the law but in all aspects of Iranian contemporary live. In the political structure, the minister of culture Ayatollah Mohajerani supported the freedom of press and because of that was criticised by the conservatives and the religious leader. At the end of this year his position became very weak and in January 2001 he was forced to resign.
On 7-9 April, the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation organised a conference in Berlin titled, "Iran After the Sixth Parliamentary Elections". A number of religious reformists, politicians, journalists and writers were invited to take part. The conference received enormous publicity within Iran and Germany. The conservatives abused this conference and some of the participants and arrested them after their return to Iran One of the participants, Hojjat al-Islam Youssefi Eshkevari, a very popular and influential high ranking clergymen, journalist and a famous religious reformist, was charged by the special clerical court with apostasy which carries the death penalty in Iran. After his return to Iran, he was arrested and sentenced in an in camera hearing before the court. By the middle of January 2001 his verdict had still not been announced.
The other participants were accused by the revolutionary court of damaging the security of the country and insulting Islamic principles. In January 2001, Akbar Ganji was sentenced to 10 years and 5 years banishment; Ezatollah Sahabi, the editor-in- chief of the banned monthly Iran-e Farda to four years and six months, Ali Afshari, a student leader and supporter of Khatami, to five years, Mrs. Shahla Lahiji, director of Roshangaran, a publishing house for women’s book, Mrs. Mehrangiz Kar, a prominent journalist, writer and lawyer and human rights advocate, to five years (she is suffering from cancer), Said Sadr, a translator, to ten years, Khalil Rostamkhani, a translator, to eight years, and Mrs. Shahla Sherkat, editor-in chief of the magazine, Zanan (Islamic feminist magazine) to five years.
On 2 April Imaddaddin Baqi, a journalist of the daily Fath, was charged with publishing information about an assassination attempt on Said Hajarian, the editor of reformist daily Sobh-e Emrouz. The accusation is based on a statement of the information minister Ali Younessi, who prohibited the press from publishing, "any unofficial information, rumours as well as foreign press analysis about Hajarian´s attackers". This prohibition was against the press law in Iran. Three days later, on 5 April, Mohammad Rezan Khatami, editor of the banned daily Mosharekat, was interrogated by the Press Court on the same matter. Emadeddin Baqi was summoned to the press court on 11 April. Charges against him included insulting religious values and libel. The editor was arrested on these charges on 29 May, while the daily Mellat was closed six days beforehand on 23 May.
In May, the journalist from the banned monthly Iran-e Farda, Taghi Rahmani, was taken into custody in the central town of Shahr-e Kord. He was accused by the town’s Revolutionary court of insulting Ayatollah Khamenei in a speech he delivered at the University.
On June 17, a Tehran revolutionary court summoned publisher Alireza Khoshandam on charges of making insulting comments while running as a candidate for the parliamentary elections in February. Khoshandam, director of pro-reformist newspaper Gofteman-e Khallaq had denied the charges. He was sent to jail after he was unable to pay the equivalent of about US$ 6,000 in bail money.
Imadeddin Baqi detained since late May was sentenced to five and a half years prison in Press Court on 17 June. Baqi had been charged with publishing articles that questioned the validity of Islamic law, "Threatening national security, and … for spreading unsubstantiated news stories about the role of agents of the Information Ministry in the serial murders of intellectuals and dissidents in 1998". His in camera trial began on 1 May.
On 18 July the conservative-dominated Press Court sentenced Reza Zohdi, publisher of the banned popular Arya daily, to prison charged with spreading lies, inciting public opinion, engaging in propaganda against the state and striving to weaken the system. He was sentenced to four months imprisonment, banned from all press activities and ordered to pay a fine of an undisclosed amount. All these charges were founded on one interview published in his daily concerning the fact that a file on more than five thousand political prisoners executed in 1991 without trial should be investigated. On 25 July the hard-line press court closed a reformist weekly Gounagoun, set up by a group of reformist journalists, whose newspapers were closed.
In August two pro-reformist women publishers, Faraneh Bahzadi, the publisher of the biweekly Danestaniha and Fatemeh Farahmandpour, publisher of the Gounagoun weekly were charged with insulting Islam and carrying out propaganda against the state. The judge, Mortazavi, the conservative chair of the Press Court who is well known for jailing defendants before hearing the case, ordered the closure of their newspapers and fined both individuals.
On 5 August, Ahmad Hakimi Pour, director of the liberal weekly Omid-e Zanjan was sentenced to two months imprisonment by the press court in Teheran. He was found guilty of insulting the commander of the Guardians of Revolution. One day later, on 6 August, the weekly Tavana was ordered closed for publishing articles that allegedly defamed officials of Iran’s Islamic system. The basis for the decision was a cartoon showing the reformist President Mohammad Khatami without his traditional robes and turban.
On 7 August, a leading liberal journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi from the moderate Hamshahri daily, run by the Teheran municipality was arrested at his home. He is still in prison.
On the same day the pro-reformist weekly Cheshmeh Ardabil in northwestern Iran was suspended for four months on charges of disturbing public opinion and insulting Islamic sanctities. The paper’s director, Nasser Jafari, was fined one Million rials.
Also in early August, the Bahar daily, a pro-reformist newspaper, directed by Said Pour Azizi, was closed by the Press court. The order was sent by fax to halt publication immediately. The final issue carried a front-page interview with Mohammad Reza Khatami, leader of the reformist faction and brother of the president. He said, "Unfortunately, our own newspaper is banned and we cannot respond to these lies and slanders.
In the middle of August the pro Khatami journalist Massoud Behnud; Ibrahim Nabawi, a very popular and influential satirist and winner of the annual award for the best political satirist; and Mohammad Qouchani, a young religious reformist and essayist were arrested by the Press Court. After some months in prison they were released in December after being forced to apologise. The press court also fined Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah, former publisher of the banned newspaper Azad and barred him from publishing.
On 17 August, the hard-line Iranian press court closed the pro-reformist weekly Ava and barred its publisher Mostafa Izadi from press activities. The weekly published some news about Iran’s foremost dissident theologians Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who has been under house arrest since 1997. Four days later, on 21 August, the Teheran Press Court announced that it was pursuing new cases against Shamsolwaezin, jailed in April and Bagher Vali Beig and Hamid Reza Jalaipour, journalists from the dailies Neshat and Jaameh.
In this month, the Supreme Court approved a six-month reduction in Shamsolvaezin three-year jail term. He was sentenced in November 1999 to three years in prison and a US $4,000 fine for "hurting Islam" following the publication of articles questioning capital punishment.
Continuing pressure on the press was accompanied in August with a new wave of attacks against the student movement in Iran who supported the reformists and freedom of press.
The trial, begun in July, of lawyers Mohsen Rahami and Sherine Ebadi, who stood accused of producing and distributing a faked video tape defaming
a number of conservative figures and officials. Sherine Ebadi, a writer and lawyer was banned from her work as a lawyer for five years.
On 12 September, Iran's judiciary indicted 18 people, including senior intelligence officials, on charges of murdering dissidents. The accused are standing trial in a closed-door military court for the murder of four dissident intellectuals in 1998. A key suspect, former deputy intelligence minister Saeed Emami, died while in custody last year, reportedly taking his own life. On the basis of different sources reported by Reuters, "a wave of politically-motivated murders masterminded by ‘rogue’ agents in the security services has left more than 80 people dead over the past decade". Some reformist newspapers have protested the decision to limit the investigation to only four murder cases. Other commentators also link the murders to senior figures in the establishment. Akbar Ganji and Emadeddin Baqi, two reformist journalists who were investigating the murder cases and the purported links between the killers and establishment officials, have been imprisoned. Pro-reform newspapers that called for full investigations have also been closed down by hard-liners who dominate the judiciary.
Not only the different courts but also pressure groups, supported by revolutionary guards and police were very active against freedom of speech in this year. On 19 September, Reuters reported, "Iranian vigilantes" raided a bookshop in the city of Isfahan, seizing 700 books as well as magazines and compact disks they deemed to be anti-Islamic. A member of the shadowy right-wing group "Ansar-e Velayat" said in an interview that, "the books seized in the attack were written by secular Iranian writers and Western philosophers including Jean-Paul Sartre." All these books had a license from the censorship office of the ministry of culture but one of the attackers said, "The books were corrupting, anti-religious and deviant ... Our brothers confiscated them in a popular and spontaneous act after being tipped off by pious people."
On 20 September Khalij-e Fars, a political weekly close to reformists, published in Bushehr/South-Iran, was closed by order of the ministry of culture without any court. The director Mohammad Ahmadi was charged with disturbing public order.
In October, judge Monutschechre Mortazavi banned a children's newspaper Gonbad-e Kaboud for showing a picture of a naked man. The managing director of Gonbad-e Kaboud is due to appear before a special Press Court to answer charges relating to the picture. Images of nudity and semi-nudity are banned in Iran.
The number of newspaper banned since April increased to more than 35 and the number of journalists in jail to about 25.
On 7 October a leading independent writer and religious scholar, Hojatoleslam Hassan Youssefi Eshkevari, who has been held in solitary confinement and denied legal counsel since 5 August, was tried behind closed doors in a special court for the clergy on a variety of charges, including "being corrupt on earth" and apostasy, which carry the death penalty. The verdict and sentence will not be announced till 15 January 2001. On 18 October Iran denounced as one-sided a United Nations report accusing the Islamic Republic of a catalogue of human rights abuses from meddling in elections to torture and restricting press freedom. The report was written by Canadian jurist Maurice Copithorne, a UN Human Rights Commission special representative on Iran.
Iran's judiciary announced "temporary" bans on three reformist weekly newspapers, Sobh-e Omid, Mihan and Sepideh-e Zendegi were banned by the Tehran justice department for "press offences on 24 October. Two days prior to this, on 22 October, Qolam-Heidar Ebrahimbay-Salami, the managing director of Hambastegi, was also forced to appear in court.
On 18 October the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance also temporarily banned six weekly publications -- including Jahan-i Pezeshki and Milad, for ignoring repeated warnings. Their cases will be referred to the press court.
In November, the weekly Iran-e Javan was suspended by the press court on the charge of publishing, "false news likely to disturb public opinion and articles which pose a threat to public morals".
Also in early December, the son of Ayatollah Montazeri, Said was arrested because he put the memories of his father on the Internet. Later that day, the press court suspended the publication of the daily Ahrar for three months and found its director Mohammad Hossein Kuzeh-Gar guilty of printing false information. In addition, the Teheran court refused to authorise 132 publications, some of which were submitted by high-ranking members of the regime.
On 30 December Ali Afsahi, a cleric and editor of Cinema-Varzech was condemned by a special court of Clergy to imprisonment. He had been charged with, "insults of sanctities of Islam" following his commentaries on two movies.
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1999 World Press Freedom Review
The tug-o-war between the minority right-winged factions in control of the judiciary and security on one hand, and the Khatami followers on the other, continued into 1999. Khatami is now said to have even more than the 70 percent support of the population he had when taking power in the 1997 landslide elections. Iran fought the battle for reform on the basis of freedom of expression in 1999. Jameah was the bastion of press freedom which had troubled the conservative opposition in 1998 but in this year they had to cope with an outspoken independent press to the strength of four. They were Neshat, the successor to Tous, which in turn was the follower to Jameah. The remaining newspapers are Khordad, run by former interior minister Abdullah Nouri; Sobhe Emrouz, run by presidential adviser Saeed Hajjarian; and Zan (Woman), founded in 1998 by Faezeh Hashemi. She is a daughter of former president President Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. As the name suggests, this is the first newspaper oriented towards women.
On January 24, Zan was banned for two weeks. The ban was based on charges made by the head of police security, Mohammad Naghi, after an article in the daily accused Naghi of having been involved in an attack on Vice President Nuri and Minister of Culture Ata'ollah Mohajerani in front of Tehran University in September. This was a mere prelude to the complete closure of Zan at the beginning of April for running part of a new year message issued by former Empress Farah and for printing a religiously offensive cartoon. To circumvent the ban it has been reproduced in sections of the three other liberal newspapers.
On February 2, Gholam Hussein Zakeri, the managing director of the bi-weekly Adineh, was found guilty of insult and dissemination of lies and corrupt articles by a Teheran court, according to the official news agency IRNA. Given twenty days to appeal, Zakeri was ordered to pay nine million Rials in fines. In the same week, the Iranian newspaper quoted the former Culture and Islamic Guidance Deputy Minister, Ahmad Bourqani, on the press
freedom situation in Iran in his farewell speech saying that it was like a young tree about to be up-rooted. Shaaban Shahidi, the former head of the external services of the state-run radio and also a close aide to Khatami, took over the position. Bourqani's resignation was said to be negatively received by the moderate press, as he had been closely associated with the proliferation of new publications on the Iranian market since Khatami's rise to power. A spate of newspaper closures combined with Bourqani's resignation and revelations about police involvement in the murder of intellectual at the end of the previous year got 1999 off to an uneasy start. IPI expressed its deep concern about the clampdown on Iran's press at the beginning of the year to President Khatami.
The media landscape in Iran is uneven, with a population of 65 million it has a mere 1,000 publications which have a combined circulation of over two million. The pro-Khatami English daily Iran News painted a bleak picture of the situation in the run up to the press festival. The paper reported that "instead of holding festivals, press officials should institutionalise the legal position of the print media, so that the weakest political turbulence would not inflict such grave damage on our press."
On January 23, a bomb was thrown at the offices of Khordad newspaper leaving two people injured, according to IRNA. They reported that eyewitnesses saw two motorcyclists throw the bomb at the building of the pro-Khatami Persian-language daily.
On February 26, the results of the municipal elections were overwhelmingly in favour of pro-reformist Khatami candidates in what was hailed as the freest and fairest election in
the Islamic Republic. Reformists accrued over 70 percent of seats in what was the second consecutive defeat of conservatives and a resounding victory for President Khatami. The turnout for the election was equally impressive with 65 percent of the electorate casting their vote.
On February 28, IRNA reported that the Islamic Human Rights Commission called for the detention of Hojjat ol-Eslam Mohsen Kadivar, a liberal Islamic scholar, former aide to Khatami and a professor of philosophy. He was accused of spreading propaganda against the Islamic republic, confusing public opinion and indirectly insulting the late Ayatollah Khomeini as a result of an article he published in Khordad on February 14. On April 21, he was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani said: "Kadivar's arrest is the arrest of ideas".
Fereydoun Verdinejad, director of IRNA, and publisher of the Iran Press Group, was detained for six hours and then released on 180 million rials (US$ 60,000) bail on May 29. Mohammed Reza Zohdi, publisher of Arya, was not as fortunate in meeting bail and was remanded in custody for "publishing slanderous material, disturbing public opinion and exposing military secrets", according to RSF.
At the beginning of June, Neshat editor Latif Safari and Jebheh editor Kazemzadeh appeared in court. Kazemzadeh faced a complaint filed by Safari, in which the Jebheh editor was accused of "defamation and generating fear in the minds of the public."
The reformist weekly Hoviyat-é-Khish came under attack in June. Firstly, Hossein Kashani, the director, was arrested in Tehran on June 16. The following day Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, the weekly's editor-in-chief, appeared before the same revolutionary court. The charges were based on two articles; one relayed news about riots that took place over the arrest of Abdullah Öcalan in the Iranian part of Kurdistan and the other was a letter by the mullah Parvazi criticising the role of conservatives in the spate of murders of intellectuals and journalists. The final blow came on June 21, when Iranian TV reported that the Press Supervisory Board of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry had withdrawn the publication licence for the weekly Hoviyat-e Khish.Conservative deputies submitted a draft bill to the parliament in May with a view to tightening the reins on the pro-reform media. The debate on the bill began in the parliament on June 5. State radio quoted the Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani's reaction to it: "The custodians of the press and (newspaper) editors have not been consulted about this bill...In our view, this bill is not meant to amend the press law, but to change its whole structure". President Khatami's comment were of the
same ilk when it was raised at the cabinet earlier that week. On the first reading the bill, out of 270 members, 125 MPs supported the measure, 90 voted against, and a crucial 55 abstained. In the new bill responsibility for articles rests with the journalists or editor, instead of with the publisher as was the case up to now. According to Radio Free Europe accreditation will be more difficult. And furthermore, the bill recommends that a Qom seminarian and the head of the Islamic Propagation Organisation serve on the Press Supervisory Board, and that the Revolutionary Courts are qualified to hear press offences. However, Article 168 of the constitution only permits press courts to do so. Just a few hours after the bill went through, courts shut down the pro-Khatami newspaper Salaam. The paper, which had been pivotal in the Khatami's landslide victory in 1997, had apparently leaked a confidential report about rogue police elements being involved in the murder of intellectuals in the previous year, an accusation that was vehemently denied by the editor Abbas Abdi. The charge was of violating Islamic principles, endangering national security and disturbing public opinion. Morad Veissi, a journalist with the newspaper was also arrested the same day. The suspension sparked six days of riots throughout the country; an outburst of demonstrations by Iranian students expressing their disdain for the crackdown on freedom of expression in the Islamic Republic. The students were sharply and swiftly dealt with by a number of forces -- generally the police, sometimes plainclothes, the Islamic militia and even vigilantes. The conflict that erupted was the worst seen in Iran since the1979 Islamic Revolution. At least three students were murdered in clashes which resulted in the dismissal of two senior Tehran police officials, according to the Financial Times. The intelligence ministry withdrew the complaint against Salaam on July 8 but the order banning the publications was not revoked. IRNA reported that is was "for the sake of maintaining calm, avoiding tension and backing the government's policies on political development and legal press freedom". Calm was restored on July 14 but the events of this time showed the frustration felt by the students, who have historically played a pivotal role in the bringing about of change in Iran.
On July 25, Mohammad Mousavi-Khoeiniha, editor-in-chief of Salaam, was convicted for publishing an allegedly classified document, slandering provincial officials and linking members of parliament to a rogue secret agent accused of masterminding the murder of several dissidents last year. The eight-member jury -- all conservative clergy chosen by the judge included three prominent hard-liners.
At a public appearance shortly after the closure of Salaam Khatami grinned when asked by a journalist what he believed was going to happen to Salaam. The journalist then asked him why he was grinning and the president responded, "What do you want me to do, cry?"
The official news agency, IRNA, quoted the minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Ataollah Mohajerani, at a press conference in August saying that Salaam had been an outstanding newspaper for the past ten years and also that he had regretted its closure. Commenting on the new press bill he went on to say that more than 300 amendments to the press code had been put together and that they would integrate the proposals made by media representatives.
The Ayatollah Khamenei appointed a new chief of the judiciary in August, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. He intimated that he would like to separate press issues from the courts but this would cause certain consternation with the conservatives who generally use the violation of Islamic principles to justify silencing the voice of dissent.
On July 2, Kazem Shokri, editor of Emrooz, was arrested and charged with having authorised an article headlined, "Two parallel lines do not cross unless God wills it," which was alleged to be insulting to Islam. The newspaper's publisher, Saeed Hajarian, was held earlier, but was released on bail after he said that Shokri was responsible for publishing the article.
On July 21, the Teheran Times reported that Kamilia Entekhabifard, Zan, and two other reporters were arrested on arrival from the United States to Iran. The editor of Jabheh, Masud Dehnamaki, also told the Teheran Times that two of his journalists had been arrested the same week, they were Reza Monjezipur and Soheil Karimi.
The pro-reform daily Neshat was suspended on September 5 for publishing articles opposing capital punishment and suggesting the supreme leader Ali Khamenei stay out of factional politics. The newspaper had a circulation of about 200,000 and was particularly popular with intellectuals and the youth. Then Latif Safari, director of the newspaper, received a two-and-a-half year suspended sentence for "insulting basic tenets of the Koran and sacred values". He was also banned from practising journalism for five years but is appealing the courts decision.
Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, was arrested on November 2 and bail was set at 500 million rials which is over US$ 150,000, and for the second time since the closure of the newspaper, he was summoned to court as a result of the same articles criticising the death penalty in Neshat but also for attempting to forge faxes to cover up his involvement in the publication of the articles. Shamsolvaezin was the editor of the banned Jameah and Tous and after the closure of Neshat he became the editor of another pro-reform newspaper Asr-e Azadegan. The trial started on November 9. Shamsolvaezin' s lawyer, Mohammad Seyfzadeh, was sentenced to five days in prison for "disturbing the order of the court" during the trial and both men were fined US$ 5,000. At the court, he refused to speak until a jury was present as Safari had been charged in the absence of a jury. Shamsolvaezin openly criticised the charges and appealed to President Khatami to lend support in the face of mounting pressure by conservatives. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Prior to his arrest he spoke to the Independent newspaper about his imminent arrest saying "the conservatives are attacking me because they think I want to run for parliament ... but only people who want power run for parliament, I already have power, as a journalist. I am the voice of civil society."
Two students at Amir Kabir Technical University in Teheran were arrested at the end of September for invoking the 12th Imam, one of Islam's holiest figures known to Shi'ites as the Lord of the Age, in a play published in The Wave, a publication run by the Islamic association at the University. The journal, with a circulation of about 200 was said to add fire to the already heated debate this year on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. One Ayatollah, Hossein Mazaheri, publicly said that such publications should be punishable with death.
On October 11, Abdullah Nouri -- the major victor at the city elections in Teheran earlier in the year, close adviser to President Khatami and publisher of the pro-reform newspaper
Khordad -- was brought before a hardline clerical court on charges of dissent. Nouri was ordered to appear before a court on October 20 to face both political and religious charges and was subsequently imprisoned. The charges included supporting Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri who was under house arrest since 1997, insulting the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini, ridiculing Koranic law and supporting diplomatic ties with the United States. Nouri had recently given up his seat at the city council in
preparation for the parliamentary elections on February 18, 2000. On November 1, Nouri's trial commenced and the 44-pages indictment against him began.
On November 16, restrictions were eased against the major dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. He was permitted his first two non-family visitors since he was accused of challenging the country's supreme leader. The Former publisher of Khordad and the mentor to Nouri was drawn into the public sphere again with the commencement of the court case, one of the twenty counts against him being the publication of Montazeri's views.
The judge, Mohammad Salimi, called for Nouri to terminate his defence on November 11 and to submit a text version of it within ten days. The verdict was reached on November 27 and Hojjatoleslam Abdollah Nouri was sentenced to five years' imprisonment by the Special Court for the Clergy (SCC) for being guilty of fifteen of the twenty counts brought against him. Later in December, he announced that he refused to lodge an appeal at the clerical court as it was not legal for that court to hear his case.
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1998 World Press Freedom Review
There are mixed reactions to the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s first complete year in office. On the positive side he has relaxed censorship on books and films and has licensed dozens of new publications. 226 new publications were licensed in Iran last year bringing the overall total to 1138. Figures on circulation are equally promising with a total of 2,900,000 as compared to 1,500,000 in the previous year. This is however counterbalanced by conservatives who have the main power base in the parliament. They are known, according to an Iranian IPI source, never to condemn acts of violence against the press. There is also the influence exerted by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with comments such as, "I am giving final notice to officials to act and see which newspapers violate the limits of freedom".
The case concerning Faraj Sarkuhi was resolved with his release on January 28. Sarkuhi, the editor-in-chief of the literary monthly Adineh, had been arrested on January 27, 1997. The journalist was convicted to one year in prison for spreading "propaganda" against the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was initially denied a passport but that was revoked in April allowing him to travel freely.
An edition of the weekly Fakur was banned on February 10 by the Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The edition in question had published photographs of the White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Iran’s leading legal authority, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, had warned journalists against publishing "any articles or photograph contrary to Islamic values," on February 9.
On February 11 the International Press Institute wrote to Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressing deep concern about the fate of Morteza Firoozi, a prominent Iranian newspaper editor. Firoozi, the former editor-in-chief of the English-language daily Iran News, was arrested in May or June 1997 and held incommunicado for several weeks. In October it was reported in the Iranian press that he was being held on espionage charges. On January 28 of this year, the official Iranian news agency IRNA announced that he had been sentenced to death. IPI was informed that Firoozi’s appeal had been rejected by the Supreme Court and that he was to be hanged within days. Firoozi, a frequent commentator on Iranian politics, had earlier served as editor of the Tehran Times, an English-language newspaper set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
He helped establish Iran News in 1994. A source in Tehran revealed to PEN that Firoozi’s case was referred back to the courts on June 16 and that the decision had come from the Judiciary Head Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi. Furthermore, according to this information, the Ayatollah Khamenei - said to be the only person with the power to order a stay of execution in Firoozi's case - sought advice from the Iranian National Security Council on the case, and a re-trial was recommended by the Council. Highlighting the weight of the world-wide pressure exerted on the Iran.
Akbar Ganji, the publisher of the liberal Rah-e No (New Path) monthly magazine, was sentenced to one year in prison after being found guilty of publishing "false news", the Islamic Revolution Court announced in a statement on March 5. Nine months of the one-year sentence were suspended for five years. Charges against Ganji were not officially announced but press reports said he was arrested in early December after a speech in which he compared hardline Islamist groups to fascists, which he denied. Reports said that he had been accused of insulting supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but the evening newspaper Jameah (Society) said he had been acquitted of that charge.
On May 10, Iran's official news agency, IRNA announced that Fereydoun Verdinejad, its director general, was to appear in court on May 11 to answer charges brought against him by a parliament deputy and a conservative group. "Verdinejad was to appear in a press violations inquiry court to answer as yet unannounced charges against him by private persons and by a number of law enforcement officials," according to IRNA.
On June 5, Mohammad Yazdi, head of judicial matters, issued a severe warning to moderate journalists accusing them of trying to create division within Iranian society. Several senior military officials in the Revolutionary Guards threatened the moderate daily Jameh with reprisals. Ataollah Mohadjerani, Minister of Islamic Orientation, also criticised Jameh for having published a photo which showed a drawing of former president Abolhassan Bani Sadr, currently in exile in France. On June 10, the Iranian justice system ordered the suspension of Jameh. The newspaper had received criticism from conservatives in Iran partly due to its support of Khatami. Jameh had its publishing license revoked and was fined 16 million rials (US$5300). Furthermore, the newspaper’s editor, Hamid-Reza Jalai-Pour, was banned from holding a similar position for one year and accused of having published "defamatory articles, untrue and contrary to public moral order", directed against several members of the regime. Before it was banned many accusations were made against the newspaper for disseminating information that was anti-Islamic.
Ali-Mohammed Mahdavi-Khorami, director of the formerÊnewspaper Gozarech-e-Rouz, was arrested and then incarcerated on June 13 and 14 for having published an article quoting the Paris-based Arabic-language magazine Al-Watan Al-Arabi about the transfer of funds out of the country by Iranian officials. He was released on bail. Mahdavi Khorrami was banned on June 14 for three years from owning or heading a publication. He was also fined 12 million rials (US$4,000). The authorities said he was sentenced because he published "falsehoods and material and images offending public decency" and said that publication of the article was "irresponsible". The editorial staff of Gozarech-e-Rouz, which was published by several IRNA journalists, decided to cease publication until the court had made a decision.
On July 29, Mohammad-Reza Zaéri, publisher of the weekly Khaneh was arrested and imprisoned in Tehran. According to RSF he was accused of "insulting Islam, the Shiite clergy and the Imam Khomeiny, and publishing photos contrary to public decency". The photo in question showed a woman (not wearing a veil) playing football, as well as a letter from a teenager saying that he didn’t know anything about the Imam Khomeiny because he was 12 years old when the former leader died in 1989. One day before President Khatami had said on public television that freedom of the press and religion were "important principles" and that "they should be defended". Then on August 6, RSF reported that the judiciary in Tehran revoked Khaneh’s licence permanently. In addition, publisher Zaéri was given a suspended six month prison sentence and fined 3 million rials (US$1700)
On August 1, the daily Tous was banned by the Tehran Justice Department until further notice because it used the layout and typography of the suspended daily Jameah. The next day, the court offered to revoke the decision to ban Tous if it adopted a new layout and changed the size of the newspaper. On August 2 the managing director of the publishing company launched a new newspaper Atfab-e Emrouz as a successor to the banned Tous which was itself a successor to the banned newspaper Jameah. On September 17 the newspaper Tous was then forced to close down for having published articles detrimental to "the country’s national interests and security," pending an investigation. The police forced their way into the newspaper printing premises to stop the presses on September 16. Members of the paper’s staff underwent interrogation. They also arrested an editor, Mashallah Shamsol-va-Ezine, the manager, Hamid Reza Jalei-Pour and sub-editor, Mohammad Javadi-Hessar, and a staff writer Ebrahim Nabavi.
The closure came in the light of a speech made by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who told government officials to deal with moderate newspapers which he accused of abusing freedom of speech to weaken people's Islamic beliefs. He remarked that "There are limits to freedom...which are set by Islam. If these limits did not exist some people would try to push the nation towards not believing in religion."
Hamid Reza Jalaipour, was released from custody on September 16 pending further investigation of the charges against him. After his release he revealed that he was kept in solitary confinement and not informed as to what charges and what legal grounds he and his colleagues had been arrested on. The remaining members of staff were then released on bail on September 21.
In the same week Iran saw the suspension of two other weekly newspapers Rah-e-No (New Way) and Tavana. Rah-e-No had written a series of articles in the weeks leading up to its suspension questioning the authority of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, they had also published an article by dissident Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, in which the supreme cleric said the supreme leader should only supervise state affairs and not have paramount power. Initially, an Iranian judge said that the journalists could have faced the death penalty as ‘mohareb’ or ‘those who fight God’ for their journalistic activities.
On September 22, the Iranian president Mohammad Khatami announced that the issue with Salman Rushdie should be considered ‘completely finished’ however, despite the President’s conciliatory tone he made no substantive change in Iran’s position on the death sentence issued against the British author. The Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi also told the British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook at the United Nations in New York that Iran would take no action to threaten Rushdie’s life, nor encourage any body else to do so. Rushdie’s response was ‘It means everything, it means freedom’. Optimism was counterbalanced by the Iranian officials reiterating that the nine-year-old fatwa could only be revoked by the person who issued it namely the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who died soon after issuing it. Senior clerics and a majority of the Iranian parliament called for the death order to be implemented despite the apparent distancing of the Iranian government from the issue. One hardline student group set a billion rial (US$333,000) bounty on the author’s head even after assurances were given by the Foreign Minster Kharrazi. Similar actions continued throughout the year dashing hopes of the author returning to a normal life.
IRNA deputy director-general Mohammed Reza Sadegh and editor-in-chief Ali-Reza Khosravi were arrested on September 22 for publishing news on September 13 about the attempt on the life of Mohsen Rafiq-Doust, director of the foundation responsible for managing the imperial family’s wealth and the disbursement of welfare payments to victims of the Iran-Iraq war. They were released the following day after the IRNA staff collected 100 million rials (US$33,000) for their bail. This coincided with 180 of the 270 Iranian parliamentarians voting in favour of putting journalists who write against Islamic principles on trial for threatening national security. It also proposed that the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, along with the Information Ministry should ‘identify all those in the press who have targeted the faith of the people to enable the judiciary to deal with them within the Islamic penal code’.
The monthly Jameh-Salem was suspended on September 29, after being convictioned by a Press Court in Tehran. The publisher Siavash Bouran was handed down a one year suspended sentence and was ordered to pay a fine of four millions rials (US$1,333). October 6 saw the suspension of the moderate Islamist magazine Asr-e Ma (Our Era) for 6 months and the managing editor Mohammad Salamati was fined three million rials (US$1,000) ‘for dissemination of fabrications and insults’. They also fined the director of the newspaper Sobh three million rials and banned him from press work for four months.
Pirouz Davani, a politician and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Pirouz, disappeared at the end of August. According to RSF, the newspaper Kar e Karagar reported rumours concerning his "execution" in its November 28 edition.
1998 was witness to a number of positive remarks from the moderate Iranian President Khatami. In a broadcast on November 16 he called for more transparency in state media, saying that otherwise "people will get information and news from unofficial sources which possibly have no good intentions". On November 25 he told a gathering of newspaper chiefs from across the political spectrum that they should adopt the more positive aspects of freedom otherwise it would be "driven underground" which would lead to "social explosion". The Shi’ite cleric said that "freedom and diversity of thought do not threaten the society’s security. Rather, limiting freedom does so".
At a students’ day gathering in Tehran on December 7, President Mohammad Khatami asked students to be patient and tolerant. He welcomed the students calls for change and asked them to wait until ‘the law can take over’. He also remarked that the onus lay with ‘the universities, the press and the theology students...to create a civil society’.
The bodies of veteran opposition leader Dariush Forouhar and his wife, Parvaneh, were found dead on November 22 in their home in Tehran. They had been stabbed to death. The former labour minister and the head of the small nationalist Iran Nation Party were known for their criticisms of human and political rights violations. He was said to be involved in organising support for the Kurdish separatist Abdullah Ocalan and was due to have a meeting with a number of Kurds to organise a rally in front of the Italian Embassy.
A new reformist political party was set up on December 6 to achieve "freedom of thought, logic in dialogue and rule of law in social behaviour" according to the daily newspaper Zan. The founding members of the Islamic Iran Participation Front is made up of 100 political cultural and political figures including the president’s two brothers, a vice-president and four ministers. The party intend to take part in the upcoming city and village election in 1999.
Abdollah Nouri, ousted as interior minister by conservatives in summer, announced on November 29 that he was going to set up a new daily newspaper with a view to supporting the moderate views of President Khatami. He said he would use his publication for the defence of freedom and human rights.
A spate of chilling developments rounded off what initially appeared to be a year of progress in Iran. On November 20, the writer Majid Sharif disappeared and his body was found on November 24. Sharif was a journalist with the monthly magazine Iran-e-Farda and wrote articles criticising government polices. According to WAN he supported a more liberal approach to Islam.
The writer-journalist Mohamad Mokhtari who disappeared on December 3 was found dead in Tehran six days later according to RSF. He is thought to have been strangled. He was known for his criticisms of the regime and was frequently arrested for his stance in the opposition. He was in the process of organising an association of writers, Kanoun, to generate support for the promotion of liberal ideas.
The following day Mohammad Ja’frar Pouyandeh, an essayist and translator disappeared. He had left his office to attend a meeting and never reached the meeting, according to WiPC. On December 11 his body was found; he was believed to have been strangled. Bringing the number of writers who have been found dead to three. Like Mokhtari, Pouyandeh was also one of six writers questioned in October in connection with a initiative to form Kanoun. The January 6 edition of the London Guardian revealed that rogue elements within the Iranian secret police were responsible for the murders of the three writers.
Shortly after, on December 7 Ezzatollah Sahabi the editor of an opposition magazine, Iran-e-Farda (Iran Tomorrow), was found guilty of insulting the armed forces and publishing lies about a special clerical court. Sahabi was a former minister in the early days of the Islamic revolution and criticised conservatives who opposed President Khatami and his reforms such as relaxing censorship. He was banned from writing for a year and fined six million rials (US$2000).
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1997 World Press Freedom Review
IRANIAN GLASNOST? Hardly. The election of a new, more liberal President, Mohammad Khatami, in the May 23 elections may have inspired optimists to see new hopes of a more tolerant administration. But the truth is that the Islamic republic's main institutions remain in the hands of the arch-conservatives led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And under the new Khatami regime, in a case which aroused international indignation, an Iranian journalist, Faraj Sarkuhi, was jailed for a year for anti-state propaganda after a closed trial - by no means an encouraging development. Earlier in the year, under the former regime, an editor of a monthly magazine had been found dead in Tehran City Coroner's Department mortuary with multiple stab wounds to his chest. Sarkuhi, editor of the literary magazine, Adineh (Friday), was sentenced to a year's imprisonment in September.
Taking into account the time he had already spent in custody, he was expected to be released at the beginning of February 1998. His son said he had also been accused of espionage - a charge which carries a death sentence - but had been cleared of the spying charge. Sarkuhi left a message on the answering machine in the family home in Berlin telling his wife and children that his trial was over and that he could receive visitors in jail. The trial was condemned by press and human rights organisations around the world, which said it fell far short of international standards of justice. Sarkuhi was detained in south-western Iran in February 1997, after allegedly trying to leave the country illegally. He had been a frequent target of the repressive Tehran regime. In September 1996, he was one of 12 writers detained at the home of a banned literary magazine, Takapoo, blindfolded and taken to Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. He was one of 134 Iranian writers who signed a 1994 Declaration calling for an end to censorship in Iran. (Another signatory Ghaffar Hosseini, was found dead in his apartment in November 1996.) Sarkuhi mysteriously disappeared on November 4, 1996, on his way to Germany to visit his wife.
Although Iranian officials insisted that he had boarded his plane, he never arrived in Germany. There was serious concern for his well-being, in view of his past mistreatment by the Tehran authorities. In the end, Sarkuhi re-appeared at Tehran airport on December 20, 1996, and gave an interview to the national and international press stating that he had gone to Germany in order to obtain custody of his children. However, shortly after he was re-arrested in January 1997,a letter by him was published in which he confirmed that he had not left Iran in November, after all, but that he had been detained by the Iranian intelligence services. The letter also claimed that he had been subjected to torture an forced to declare against his will that he gone to Germany. Sarkuhi's plight strained ties between Iran and the West. The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, cited uncertainty about Sarhuki's fate as one of the factors preventing the European Union from restoring normal ties with Tehran and sending back ambassadors withdrawn as part of the downgrading earlier in 1997. Swept to power in a landslide victory in May, President Katami - a moderate Moslem Shi'ite cleric - said that the time was ripe to ensure more democracy. However, he insisted that this had to be done while defending the Islamic government against its enemies.
He has not backed away from his promises to introduce greater social and economic freedoms. "To provide channels to convey people's needs to the state, we need organised political parties, social associations and an independent free press," the President said in a televised address on August 13. (Political parties have been banned since Iran's 1979 revolution, and the government has kept a tight grip on media freedoms, but factions loyal to the Islamic state have been allowed to set up political organisations and religious associations. Katami said he had chosen a woman Vice-President - the first since the revolution - in a sign that he was determined to fulfil at least some of the hopes for a freer society. Iran's artistic community welcomed the appointment of a new Culture Minister who promised to ease restrictions on cultural life in the Islamic republic. Ataollah Mohajerani won a required vote of confidence from Iran's Parliament on August 21, despite coming under fire from conservative deputies who accused him of being a liberal willing to resume ties with the "arch-enemy," the United States. The appointment of Mohajerani - a 53-tear-old historian and university professor - to head the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance was seen as crucial for President Khatami's programme to inject new freedoms into the 18-year-old revolutionary state. Mohajerani's jurisdiction will include what kinds of media, books, film, music and other artistic pursuits will be permitted in the country of 60 million people, which is still led by Moslem clerics., Reuters quoted a book publisher, Mehdi Fakhrizdeh, as saying: "This is a huge development, and things will definitely move towards the better, providing the pressure groups do not interfere. This is my concern, because they always managed to evade legal prosecution." Jamshid Arjmand, 59, an author and film critic, said: "I am very optimistic and glad, but like any wise person, I don't expect instant changes ... One should expect every possible hindrance, but not as severe and extensive as in the past." One film director declared: "Censorship has gone crazy in decent years.
For example, we are not allowed to show a woman smoking a cigarette, even though she is the villain of the film." Mohajerani himself pledged more freedom - but on December 9, he told a group of Western journalists that he rejected calls to scrap literary censorship. He said that Iran's Constitution outlawed writings hostile to religion, and authors were expected to refrain from pornography and writing about sex. "They shouldn't think they can publish anything they like " he said. Asked when Iranians would be permitted to have satellite dishes and choose what they watched on television, Mohajerani replied: "I myself watch these satellite TV stations, and have a dish here in my office. I was one of the opponents of this Bill in Parliament, because I believe the government should not interfere so much in people's lives."
Nevertheless, he added, there was no hope of abolishing the law banning satellite dishes during the current Parliament. There was a tragic incident earlier in the year, under the former regime. On March 29, Ebrahim Zalzadeh, editor of the monthly magazine, Meyar (The Standard), was found dead in the Tehran mortuary with stab wounds to the chest. He had disappeared in February. An Iranian newspaper reported on April 12 that Zalzadeh had been killed by thieves after being kidnapped and robbed. However, other reports suggested that Zaladeh had been arrested by Ministry of Information officials and later killed. Mayar had frequently criticised the government's censorship policies. Zaladeh was reportedly one of the eight writers and publishers who had offered to share in the punishment of Abbas Maroufi, editor of the magazine, Gardoun, who was sentenced to receive 25 lashes in February 1996. On April 10, a court in the holy city of Mashhad banned Mohammad Sadeq Javadi Hessar, editor of the weekly magazine, Tous, from all journalistic work for 10 years for publishing an article claiming that Iranian universities were more Islamic than Moslem seminaries. He was also also fined three million rials (about US$1,000) after being convicted of causing public confusion and provoking antagonism between universities and seminaries. A colleague said he believed Javadi Hessar was being atteged because Tous "is the only paper that supports Khatani in this region." In 1995, the editor had been sentenced to 20 lashes and six months in jail on charges including slander, following an earlier lawsuit against his magazine - but that conviction had been quashed on appeal. At least two new newspapers were launched in Iran during 1997.
Iran Daily, the Islamic republic's fourth English-language newspaper, appeared on May 21, two days before the election. The eight-page tabloid will concentrate on domestic and regional economic affairs. The newspaper is produced by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). It competes with Iran News, Kayhan International and Tehran Times. On July 26, Iran saw the launch of its first Arabic-language newspaper, al-Wefaq. Iran's official language is Persian, but the aim of the new publication is to forge friendship with Arab states. In February this year, an Iranian foundation increased the reward for the killing of the Anglo-Indian author, Salman Rushdie, to US$2.5 million. The 15th Khordad Foundation first offered the reward in 1989, after Iran's late leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa (religious edict) imposing the death sentence on Rushdie for alleged blasphemy against Islam in his novel, "The Satanic Verses."


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