U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that independent media are crucial to a nation's political health:
"We see the growth of a free media as an important indicator of whether or not a country is a vibrant democracy, and whether it's willing and ready to embrace the challenges and changes ahead of it. The free flow of ideas and information is literally the lifeline of liberty."
That lifeline is being choked off in Iran. In its latest report, Reporters Without Borders says that in Iran "press freedom shrank daily during 2004." It calls the clerical regime one of the world's "ten most repressive," pointing out that "the country has for years been the Middle East's biggest prison for journalists."
Reporters Without Borders says that Iranian journalists are arrested arbitrarily and routinely beaten in jail. Thirteen journalists were imprisoned during 2004. Ten were still being held at the end of the year. At least sixty journalists were summoned to appear before Iran's justice and intelligence ministries. Reporters Without Borders names imprisoned Iranian journalists, including Yosef Azizi Banitrouf and Reza Alijani, and calls for their immediate release.
Reporters Without Borders says that "the judiciary, controlled by the hardliners, remains the chief instrument of persecuting the media." The sham trial and acquittal of an Iranian intelligence ministry agent shows the Iranian judiciary's "blatant hypocrisy" and "triumph of impunity," says Reporters Without Borders. The agent was alleged to be involved in the brutal murder in July 2003 of Canadian-Iranian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi.
Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi says that Iran's press law does not guarantee freedom of expression and runs counter to the International Human Rights Charter, which Iran signed in 1975. Ms. Ebadi says that "everyone is entitled to freedom of expression and no one [should] be prosecuted merely for expressing ideas." Democracy cannot develop, she says, unless freedom of expression is guaranteed.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher agrees. In a statement issued on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Mr. Boucher emphasized "the crucial link the press plays to advance the struggle for freedom. . .The United States," he says, "will continue working to advance press freedom as a key part of our efforts to promote democracy and human rights."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.