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Bill designed to ease current restrictions on press blocked, pro-reform newspaper banned, journalist arrested

(IPI/IFEX) - In a 7 August 2000 letter to President Mohammed Khatami, IPI expressed its deep concern over the continuing repression of Iran's reformist media.

On 6 August, spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei personally intervened to block a bill introduced in parliament that was designed to ease the current stringent restrictions on the press. The bill, if passed, would have made it more difficult to prosecute individual reporters and editors for the content of newspaper articles, thus lifting the threat of jail sentences from journalists. Khamenei justified the last-minute intervention, saying that the bill would destabilise the Islamic system and give a foothold to "enemies."

On the same day, Iran's Press Court banned a pro-reform newspaper. According to IPI's sources, the weekly "Tavana" was ordered closed on 6 August for publishing articles that allegedly defamed officials of Iran's Islamic system. Authorities have not provided details of the charges at the time of writing. However, prior to its shutdown, "Tavana" had published cartoons depicting the president of Iran without his traditional robes and turban. Satire of political leaders is considered by many Shi'ite Moslem clergy to be a taboo.

In addition, on 7 August, a dozen policemen entered the home of Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, a journalist with the moderate daily "Hamshahri", and arrested him. Police also searched his home and confiscated articles, books and other material. Zeid-Abadi was allegedly arrested on orders of the Press Court for defying instructions to appear before court.

These incidents are deeply disturbing against the backdrop of the recent history of actions taken by the authorities to muzzle critical voices. The failure to amend the press law leaves in place a legislation with draconian provisions created by the previous parliament and giving the courts power to close newspapers summarily and control who works for them.

Twenty-two newspapers have been shut down since the courts started their crackdown on the reform-oriented press in April, after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared them "bases of the enemy." (see IFEX alerts of 26 and 24 July, 27 June, 23, 9 and 8 May, 28, 25, 24 and 20 April 2000 and others). In addition, at least half a dozen journalists have been detained on charges related to their professional work. Among these are Emadoddin Baqi, a journalist and member of the editorial board of the banned daily "Fath". Baqi was sentenced on 17 July to five and half years in prison for publishing articles which questioned Islamic law and the murders of prominent dissidents (see IFEX alerts of 18 July, 30 May and 7 April 2000).

Another journalist, Taqi Rahmani, who wrote for the monthly "Iran-e Farda", is currently awaiting a hearing scheduled for 24 September. Charged with insulting top officials in a speech he delivered to medical students in April, Rahmani may face a prison sentence if convicted (see IFEX alert of 1 August 2000).

Recommended Action

Send appeals to the president:
- suggesting that the closing down of newspapers and the jailing of journalists because of what they write is a serious violation of human rights and runs counter to all internationally excepted standards, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers"
- urging His Excellency to do everything in his power to ensure the re-introduction of legislation that will amend the existing press law in such a way that the press is allowed to report freely and without fear of punitive retribution for publishing opinions different from those held by the authorities
- further urging him to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists who have been imprisoned as a result of their writing, and to lift the ban on the newspapers in question

Appeals To


H.E. Seyed Mohammad Khatami
Dr. Al Shariati Ave.
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

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