Iranian authorities close prominent critical daily and a monthly
New York, September 11, 2006-The Committee to Protect
Journalist condemns the closure of Iran's most
prominent critical newspaper today for failing to remove an executive accused of
publishing blasphemous articles and insulting officials.
shuttered the daily Sharq saying it had not replaced managing director,
Mohammad Rahmanian, as ordered in a letter on August 10, according to
Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, spokesman for the
Iranian Committee for the Defense of Freedom of the Press.
"There can be
no press freedom in a country in which government agencies hire and fire
editors," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.
The Press Supervisory Board run by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic
Guidance said Sharq had been given one month to replace Rahmanian,
but after the deadline ran out on Sunday, he remained at his post. The board
said in a statement that "because of 70 cases of violations, including insulting
officials, religious and national figures, publishing blasphemous articles and
also articles creating discord ... the board demanded the replacement," Reuters
The Board also criticized a cartoon published Thursday, which
depicted a chessboard lying between a horse and a donkey with a halo of light
around its head. Some opposition Web sites have quoted President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad as saying that he was protected by a divine circle of light during
his United Nations assembly speech in New York last year, Reuters added. The
president's office strongly denied he had said such a thing.
newspaper angered authorities by criticizing the rulings of the Supreme National
Security Council, which is in charge of Iran's nuclear negotiations with the
West, and the cartoon was seen as another example of the paper's undermining the
council, Shamsolvaezin told CPJ.
Reuters reported that Rahmanian asked
on Sunday for a two-month extension to find a successor and accordingly was not
in violation of the deadline. He intends to appeal the order, the agency said.
But Shamsolvaezin said the ban appeared permanent.
Sharq had come
under pressure from the judiciary because of its editorial line, according to
Shamsolvaezin. Its closure was a clear message intended to silence critics and
other reformist papers, he added.
Shamsolvaezin said the Board today
also ordered the political monthly Nameh closed for blasphemy and
insulting religious figures. The paper's editor, Majid Tavallaei, said the paper
was closed for publishing a poem by dissident female poet Simin Behbahani, The
Associated Press reported.
"The closure of these two publications is
further evidence of the Iranian authorities' determination to silence dissenting
voices and stifle media freedom," Simon said. "We call upon the authorities to
rescind the closure orders."
Also today, authorities lifted a ban on the
state newspaper Iran, the Iranian Committee for the Defense of Freedom of
the Press added. The paper will publish under a new team of managers and
journalists and with a new design, according to Shamsolvaezin and local news
The daily was banned on May 23 after it published a cartoon
that sparked riots by ethnic Azeris in the northwestern city of Tabriz. Mehrdad
Qasemfar, editor-in-chief of Iran Friday, the local weekend edition of
the official state newspaper Iran, and Mana Neyestani, the paper's
cartoonist were arrested and charged with insulting the Azeri ethnic minority
and transferred to Tehran's Evin, according to CPJ sources. Qasemfar was
acquitted and Neyestani fined, according to Shamsolvaezin. Both were released on
Since 2000, Iranian courts have closed more than 100
publications, most of which were pro-reform. In August, the government urged the
judiciary to clamp down on dailies that spread "lies."
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