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Censorship is an Issue in Iranian Elections

Journalists in Iran are anxiously awaiting the upcoming election in their country June 17th. Under Iran's current Reformist president, there was an initial easing of censorship of the arts and media, followed by crackdowns during the past few years. Many journalists are wondering if the recent trend will continue.

Many in Iran may not give much thought to the concept of freedom of the press as they purchase their favorite newspaper.

But many journalists, including those an annual book fair in Tehran, are unsure if they will work in an atmosphere free of government intervention, once a new leader replaces outgoing President Mohammad Khatami.

One journalist said, "I prefer that the Reformists win, so that the project of reforms than began from 1997 with the coming of Mister Khatami will continue."

Eight years ago, Mister Khatami took office and ushered in an era of increased press freedom in the Islamic Republic. Many newspapers prospered, openly calling for reform from the establishment.

But starting in 1999, hard-line conservatives began efforts to silence those voices, successfully forcing many newspapers to shut down.

The amount of freedom the Iranian press should enjoy has become an issue in the presidential race, with some candidates trying to take the middle ground between more censorship, and fewer restrictions.

Conservative candidate Ali Larijani has told artists and intellectuals he wants to create an environment for freedom of expression. However, when he served as Iran's Culture Minister and director of state broadcasting, he made it clear that he felt such freedom should not mean what he called "inattention to religious values" or doubting the "Islamicity of government."

"Free thinking is among the natural rights of human beings. And if we want to think about a mature, complete civilization, we must protect the freedom of thinking in all spheres," said the presidential candidate.

Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, running for a third term as president, says he favors freedom of expression. But he also suggests that journalists must conform to established traditions.

"The correct thing for the mainstream press to do is to be careful to move within the limits of the law,” said Mr. Rafsanjani. “If they have criticisms, they should get society to agree through analysis, reasoning, and explanation."

Some journalists say they don't plan to vote in the June 17th election, saying they are disillusioned with politics and the slow pace of reforms. But others say voting for Reformist candidates who are less than ideal is better than putting a hard-line conservative in office.