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1/16/03 - IRAN CLOSES REFORM NEWSPAPERS - 2003-01-17

The struggle in Iran continues between Islamic hard-liners and political reformers. In an effort to silence dissent, the Iranian government has shut down two leading reformist newspapers. The Special Clergy Court ordered the daily Hayat-e-Nou [hai-at-eh-no] closed for publishing a sixty-five-year-old cartoon that was said to be insulting the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first spiritual leader of Iran’s extremist Islamic revolution. The court summoned Hayat-e-Nou editor and cleric Hadi [HAH-dee] Khamenei [ham-nay-ee] to face unspecified charges. The court also ordered the prosecution of all people involved in publishing the cartoon. The government closed the reformist daily Bahar, also for allegedly insulting authorities.

After the election of President Mohammad Khatami [hah-tah-MEE] in 1997, the independent press began to provide a forum for discussing reform in Iranian society. But there are no safeguards for freedom of expression in Iran and the independent press has been subjected to increasing repression. Since 2000, when the Iranian regime summarily closed the fourteen most prominent pro-reform newspapers, more than eighty newspapers have been closed, often without hearings. The Iranian clerical regime views public debates over policy as a threat to its hold on power.

Under a 1995 press law, it is illegal to insult Islam, to find fault with the late Ayatollah Khomeini, or to promote the views of dissident clerics. As a consequence, government officials frequently file complaints against journalists, editors, and publishers. Offending writers are subject to lawsuits and fines. Suspension from journalistic activities and imprisonment without trial are common. Police raid newspaper offices and gangs of thugs known as Helpers of the Party of God attack offices of more liberal publications and bookstores.

The Iranian government also controls all television and radio broadcasting. Programming reflects only the government’s views. Because newspapers and other print media have a limited circulation outside large cities, radio and television serve as the main source of information for many Iranians.

The stranglehold of the radical Islamic clerics has been preventing Iran from progressing politically and economically for twenty years. As President George Bush said, “We continue to stand with the people of Iran in [their] quest for freedom, prosperity, honest and effective government, judicial due process and the rule of law. And we continue to call on the government of Iran to respect the will of its people and be accountable to them.”