The First Attacks on the Press in Iran

In early 1978, the Shah persuaded by Carter’s human rights campaign, simulated an open political atmosphere. Certain political prisoners, for whom fierce campaign has been waged for years, were released. Major newspapers, like Keyhan and Etela’at, were allowed to publish articles criticising the government. New publications appeared and public places were used for political meetings.

February 1, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in Iran after 17 years of exile and made the following statement:

“The Shah has destroyed our economy and whole country is today in chaos. He kept our culture backward. We are not against the cinema. We are not against radio and TV. When have we ever acted against modernisation? The blood of our young people was sacrificed for liberty. We have been living under oppression for 50 years”.

Now we know what Khomeini said what he had to do, not what he meant. The first to learn what Khomeini meant by liberty were Iranian women. The regime ordered them to hide themselves in the “chador“, veil. The second issue was the freedom of press which only enjoyed a short period of freedom. Censorship was underway to establish its grips once again.

To illustrate what happened to the press, we must show the role that Khomeini himself played in the case of Ayandegan, the first popular newspaper to be suspended. His office wrote:

“What Ayandegan wrote about the martyrdom of Ayatollah Motahari, an Islamic philosopher, was a complete lie. Since the very first day of the revolution, this paper has played a divisive role and worked against the interests of our Islamic nation. This newspaper is not acceptable and will not be accepted by our responsible and revolutionary Muslims. The Imam has told us that from now on, he will not read this newspaper. Of course, the work of its editorial board is completely different from the work of its responsible Muslim workers”.

This announcement was broadcasted by National Radio and TV which were controlled by Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, a dubious architect of the Islamic revolution, later; he was executed on the charge of conspiracy against the regime. The following day, Ayandegan appeared with only four pages: one of them writing and three blank. Ayandegan was shut down on August 9, 1979. It was the beginning of IRI’s crackdown on the press.

Short after Ayandegan, the regime dismissed 20 writers from Keyhan newspaper, confiscated Etela’at, another Tehran paper; destroyed Peygham Emrooz completely and attempt to assassinate its editor, Reza Marzban.

At this time, the regime began to restructure the Savak, the secret police under the Shah.

Mr. Mostafa Chamran, an organiser of the Islamic Amal operations in Southern Lebanon, was chosen to head the new office, now called Savama. Then the editor of a magazine, Tehran Mosavar, received a warning letter from the new secret police, Savama, warning him “not to interfere in the political affairs of the country, reported, an Iranian weekly published abroad. The Savama is ever since a secret organ of general repression, including repression on the press. The hunger for books and papers was an important sign of a revolutionary situation. In a country with a literacy rate of 50%, there were lines several blocks long in front of bookstores and newsstands.

During the Shah’s time, most books were printed in editions of 1,500 copies, with the exception of the Koran and some popular poets. After the revolution, books went into a second or third printing with 10,000 copies in each edition. In the first 6 months, 2 million books were legally printed and sold, books which would have brought prison under the Shah. Another 2 million books were clandestinely distributed, and 2 million more were imported.

This hunger of enlightenment was not to be tolerated by the Islamic regime. A new campaign started blocking the people’s understanding of their own situation. Books were removed from stores and libraries and destroyed by Hezbollah, IRI’s thugs.

The second phase of attack on the press began on 13, 1980, with the bombing of Bamdad, a Tehran paper. The Writers and Press Union condemned this attack as a threat to basic freedom. This time the regime avoided using its thugs to dictate their wishes and so it entered the new era of bombs.

Khomeini issues a special order: “When a book is written, before it is published, specialists should examine and study it, lest it be an anti-Islamic”, reported on January 9, 1980, Iranshah, a newspaper serving the Persian-speaking abroad. After this order, most publications and some printing shops, without being formally charged by the judicial authorities, were shut down by force.

Each time a paper or magazine was suppressed, a window on the freedom was closed to people. The newspaper offices were attacked as well, some of them were set on fire; books store were plundered and burned; booksellers, writers and newspapers vendors were harassed and arrested. Not one day passes when the office of a paper-even a legal one- was not assaulted or set on fire because its contents were not pleasant to a group of backward-minded clergy.

In a just a few weeks, hundreds of primary and high school students were arrested on charges of selling banned newspapers—a number of them were later executed. On April 14, 1980, Iranshahr said: Khomeini ordered a purge at the National Radio and TV. A warning from the Office of General Prosecutor to anyone who cooperates with illegal publications and the replacement of the directors of Keyhan and Etala’at by the Office of the Imam were the next major steps toward limiting the freedom of the press.

On July 23rd, after an attack on its central office, the Bamdad newspaper was closed down. Bamdad had been established three months after the revolution. Since the shutdown of Ayandegan , Bamdad was the only reliable newspaper which had managed to keep its independence. Without Bamdad, there were no more independent publications in Iran. The only legal newspapers were owned by Bani Sadr’s supporters (Abdol Hassan Bani Sadr the first IRI’s President), or supporters of the Islamic Republic Party (IRP). This situation of course did not last. One year after the suspension of Bamdad, with the victory of the IRP over Bani Sadr and his dismissal, Enghelab-Eslami and five other daily publications were closed down.

On June 12, 1981, the Office of the Revolutionary Prosecutor ordered six newspapers shut down, charging them with insulting public opinion and acting against the Imam’s twelve point orders. These papers were:

Enghelab-Eslami, Mizan, Payam-e-Jebheh- Melli, Arman-e-Mellat and Mardom, the daily publication of the Tudeh Party, a pro-Soviet party which collaborated with the “anti-imperialist” IRI in the first years of bloody repression–it is to mention that Mardom was a pro-IRI publication and later was published for a while under another name.

A year after the revolution, there was nothing was left from the short period of relatively freedom of pen and speech in Iran. Out of nearly 100 newspapers which were published during the mass uprising of February, 1979, only a few could survive. After the regime’s systematic takeover of the media continued, the answer to the pro-IRI publications, there was only underground press published under extremely dangerous conditions. As we know, the price for holding or distributing these papers was death.

More stunning revelation of the early repression was not the elimination of the free press, but the creation of such a press that rather than protect itself against totalitarianism, it bends to its demands. By striving to merge their individual identities with one or another faction of the system, many minds and hearts from artists to intellectuals and from students to professors and from journalists to writers and from inside to outside the country absorbed directives while endeavouring to fulfil the mandate of the one or another faction of the IRI.

The IRI’s mandate for such a press does not forcibly mean to repeat enthusiastic slogans of pro-IRI or even to ban limited critical reports; more typically, it attempts to promote a political apathy into the society.

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