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Iranian Opposition: 15 Publications Threatened with Closure

Iranian opposition websites are reporting Iran has threatened to shut down 15 more newspapers and periodicals. The warning further intensifies pressure on the already limited number of papers allowed to publish.

Opposition websites, including Rah e Sabz and Ayande News say the government's press censorship arm, the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, has warned 15 daily and weekly periodicals not to publish articles critical of the government or its ministers.

Those publications include daily papers, as well as economic and cultural publications, such as Emrouz, Bahar, Towse'e, Rouzan, Jahan-e Eqtesad, Ettelaat, Asrar, Jaha-e San'at, Mardomslari, Arman-e Ravabet-e Omumi, Jomhouri, Poul, Farhikhtegan, and Afarinesh.

Ali Nourizadeh of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London says the Iranian government has intensified its scrutiny of the press.

"The deputy minister of Islamic Guidance said he has called upon several pro-government university professors and he asked them to read all newspapers daily, word by word and to report to him whether they have crossed the red line or not. So, any kind of criticism of Ahmedinejad, his government, his ministers, his deputy ministers would be considered hostile," he said.

Ayande News says one delicate subject is the ongoing controversy around President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Meshaie, who is also the father of his son-in-law.

Opposition websites reported recently Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and other hardline parliament members are trying to force President Ahmedinejad to dump Rahim-Meshaie. Last fall, Parliament voted against Rahim-Mashaie's nomination to be first vice-president.

Nourizadeh says publications have been told they will be given "warnings" for each infraction and will be "shut down" after several warnings. He emphasizes the Iranian press is in bad shape due to ongoing censorship, newspaper closings, and arrests of journalists.

"Based on the official number of jailed journalists and writers, we have 76 of them in prison, and prison is hanging over the heads of more than 200 of them, and also we have journalists who are out of work-around 1200 of them are out of work-so the situation is the worst we ever faced during 31 years of Islamic Republic rule," he said.

Iran analyst Meir Javedanfar of the MEEPAS Center in Tel Aviv says Iranian censorship sometimes includes attacking newspaper offices and threatening journalists:

"During the last Gaza War there was a newspaper that had its offices evacuated because it published an article that said both sides [Hamas and Israel] are to blame and because it also criticized Hamas. The editors were threatened and the office had to close down and they went and torched the premises," said Javedanfar.

Following Iran's disputed June presidential election, pro-government Basiji militiamen ransacked newspapers belonging to presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Journalists at both publications were also arrested.