Press clampdown paralyses reform course in Iran
By Farshid Motahari
July 28, 2000, Teheran (dpa) - Despite overwhelming victories in presidential
and parliamentary elections Iranian President Mohammad Khatami seems to
have ground to a halt with his reform efforts.
The slow-down follows an extensive press crackdown by the conservative
The president's brother, Mohammad-Reza Khatami, who is also Vice-Speaker
and Head of the reformist party IIPF which has a 70 per cent majority in
the Majlis, described the move as ``a severe and paralysing blow to the
reformers''. He said it also deprived the pro-Khatami wing of its daily
contact with the people.
On Tuesday, the official news agency IRNA reported that conservatives
in the judiciary closed down the 21st publication in the country and even
sealed off the building of the Gunagun (Variety) weekly.
The conservative opposition, which consists of traditional clergy and
still enjoys influence within the judiciary, accuses reformers and the
liberal press of planning to get rid of Iran 's ruling Islamic system and
replace it with a secular scheme in line with ``enemies of the revolution''.
The new Majlis, which started in May, was expected to change the current
press law in line with which not only 21 publications -including 20 pro-Khatami
ones - were closed down but which put thousands of reporters and other
press-related workers out of a job.
Several journalists have also been detained in the notorious Evin prison
in northern Teheran on charges of having undermined Islam in their press
``The Majlis should not to waste time with lengthy debates over matters
that may be of little or no consequence to the average man but concentrate
on issues which have the eyes of an anxiously expectant nation fixed onto
them'', IRNA, itself under heavy pressure for its pro-reform trend, wrote
in an editorial.
Reformists say that owing to a lack of transparency in press law, press
violation charges are based on individual legal interpretations by judiciary
officials who are against the reform trend.
President Khatami is an advocator of press freedom but he abides by
the principle that the judiciary is independent of the government and therefore
there should be no interference. He relies on ``teaching democracy and
tolerance'' as a long-term solution to the issue.
The reformists in the Majlis are scheduled to tackle next month the
controversial press law which is widely expected to trigger heated debates
and eventually have a major impact on the country's political future and
the future of Khatami's reform course.
``The Majlis is to debate on August 6 one of the most controversial
bills since its foundation and is standing before a crucial test with the
amendment to the press law which is intended to ensure freedoms for a society
which is placing heavier emphasis on civil liberties,'' IRNA said.