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    News & Views

    IHRWG Condemns Crackdown on the Freedom of Expression

    Over the past three weeks a number of events have taken place in Iran which point to a government campaign against the freedom of expression:

    - September 8: Mr. Abbas Amir Entezam, the deputy Prime Minister inthe provisional government and a long-time political dissident, was detained for criticizing president Mohammad Khatami. Mr. Amir Entezam had crticized Mr. Khatami for heaping praise on the late Assadollah Lajevardi, former head of Iran's notorious Evin prison (in which Mr. Amir Entezam was jailed for several years), and regarded by many as responsible for the torture and execution of countless political prisoners.

    - September 15: Ayatollah Khamene'i, the Supreme Leader, called on officials to act against newspapers which were "abusing" the limits of freedom.

    - September 16, the newspaper Tous was shut down by a revolutionary court for allegedly publishing articles that the judiciary considered detrimental to the security of the nation (Tous started publication only in July of 1998, as a continuation of the daily Jame'eh after the latter was banned). Furthermore, arrest warrants were issued for the editor, Mahmoud Shams-ol-Va'ezin, the publishing manager, Hamidreza Jala'ipour, a leading columnist, Ebrahim Nabavi, and a journalist, Mohammad Sadeq Javadi-Hesar, all of whom have since been arrestedand detained. There were even calls by a judge, Gholamhossein MohseniEjei, to try them for `fighting god', a charge which carries the death penalty.

    - September 17: two more newspapers, Tavana and Rah-e Now, were ordered to shut down, apparently due to publishing articles critical of some clerics. It appears that one reason for which both Tous and Rah-Now were banned was because of their decision to publish the views ofthelate Grand Ayatollah Kho'i on the concept of Supreme Jurisprudence. This concept is one of the pillars upon which the Islamic Republicis based (on September 27, the Information Minister, Hojatoleslam Dorri-Najafabadi, commented that some of the detained [Tous] writers wanted a secular government to come to power in Iran).

    - September 22: Mohammad Reza Sadeq, the deputy director of IRNA,andAli Reza Khosravi, the editor-in-chief of IRNA's social department,were arrested and interrogated for five hours at Tehran's Evinprison.They were reportedly detained after complaints made by Mohsen Rafiqdoost, the head of the Bonyad-e Mostazefan va Janbazan (Foundation for the Disinherited and Disabled War Veterans). They were released the nextday, apparently after Mr. Rafiqdoost dropped the charges.

    - September 23: Mr. Ataollah Mohajerani, the minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, supported the action to shut down Tous, claiming that the latter was a mouth piece for the Iran Freedom Movement (a charge denied by the FMI) and pre-revolutionary writers and journalists.

    - September 27: the newspaper Zan reported that 265 journalists in Iran protested against a campaign against the country's press. The journalists protested the recent moves against the press and "demanded respect for the country's law in approaching press violations." The journalists also demanded the appointment of lawyers for the detained Tous reporters as well as visiting rights for their families.

    - September 27: The closure of Tous was formalized with theannouncementthat the Press Supervisory Board, a body operating under theministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, had revoked the license of thenewspaperbecause Tous "had insulted Ayatollah Khomeini by publishing an interview with former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, in which he said Khomeini had sought political asylum in France in 1978" (IRNA). According to Hamshahri newspaper, a newspaper's licence can be revoked only when a media court in a public hearing, and in the presence of jurors, finds the medium guilty. Thus, it seems that the action of the press supervisory board is beyond its authority according to the Islamic Republic's legal system.

    - September 29: Ms. Faezeh Rafsanjani appeared in court to answer charges of publishing "lies" in her newspaper, Zan.

    - September 29: a court in Tehran banned the monthly Jame'eh Salem after finding it guilty of charges including insulting the late Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. The magazine's publisher, Siavash Bouran, also received a suspended jail sentence, and was fined three million rials ($1,000).

    - October 1: Navid-e-Esfahan, a weekly newspaper published in Esfahan,was temporarily closed on charges of "acting against the country'ssecurity, publishing lies and disturbing public opinion as well as promoting opposition groups," (Salam newspaper).

    - October 4: a court warned Iranian writers not to reactivate the Kanoon-e Nevisandegan, an independent professional association of Iranian writers.

    - October 5: Asr-e-Ma, a bi-weekly publication, was suspended for six months by the tehran public court branch 1410 on charges of fabrication and dissemination of insults. The managing director, Mohammad Salamati was also fined Rls 3 Million. The public relations office of the court also announced that Mehdi Nassiri, the managing director of the bi-weekly Sobh, was suspended from directorship of Sobh or any other publication for four months, and fined Rls 3 Million, for making accusations against a person by the name of Ali Vakili.The Iranian Human Rights Working Group (IHRWG) strongly condemns the decision to shut down the above publications and to arrest the journalists of Tous. We view these decisions as clear violations ofthe freedom of expression, one of the most cherished human rights. The closure of such a large number of publications in such a short period of time, and on such preposterous charges, following the commentsof Ayatollah Khamene'i, leads us to believe that a campaign, by the government authorities, against the freedom of expression is underway in Iran.

    We strongly object to remarks made by both Ayatollah Khamene'i and Mr. Mohajerani in which they accuse the press of abusing its freedom, and of compromising national security. Public officials in a civil society are expected to act in a responsible manner and they must beheld responsible and accountable for their words and deeds while inoffice. Vague and unspecified accusations and charges are not acceptableto the public in general, and the human rights community in particular. Charges need to be clearly stated and proven in open courts, otherwise anyone in a position of authority can act with impunity.

    We remind the authorities of the Islamic Republic that it is the basic right of all Iranians to criticize and question both their leaders and their government and to freely express their opinion on both matters. The freedom of expression becomes meaningful only when it is accorded to one's opponents as well as one's supporters.

    The IHRWG demands the immediate release of Mahmoud Shams-ol-Va'ezin, Hamid Reza Jalaipur, Seyed Ebrahim Nabavi, Mohammad SadeqJavadi-Hesar and Abbas Amir Entezam. We also demand that all suspended newspapers, Tous, Rah-e Now, Tavana, Jame'eh Salem, Navid-e Esfahan and Asr-eMa, be allowed to resume publication.The IHRWG strongly encourages the authorities of the Islamic Republic to respect the freedom of expression of all Iranians, regardless of their political and social views. The authorities should encourage journalists, and the press in general, to providea forum where people can air their views candidly and honestly, instead of harassing or arresting them based on false charges.

    Iranian Human Rights Working Group (IHRWG)

    October 7, 1998.


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