November 26, 2007 (RFE/RL)
-- The swift move by Iran's Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister to ban a
newly published novel by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez has once
again put the spotlight on the phenomenon of censorship in Iran.
The ban on "Memoirs of
My Melancholy Whores," published in Iran as "My Sad Sweethearts," has raised
new concerns about the fate of many banned writers and hundreds of other
banned books in Iran.
Censorship has intensified over the last two
years, with many books appearing only in expunged versions, while others
previously available -- like the Marquez novel -- have had subsequent print
The List Keeps Growing
From the moment that Islamic Culture and
Guidance Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Harandi took office in 2005, the
list of prohibited books in Iran started growing.
A quick look at the books on the list
confirms that there has been an increase in the intensity and recklessness
of censorship in all areas.
The wide range of the banned literature
includes Persian classical literature and gnosticism, a wide array of
academic university books, some of the best-known world literature, and
books illustrating a number of famous people from the Islamic world.
In the two years since Harrandi took office,
more than 70 percent of previously published books have been banned from
being republished, even though each and every one of those books had
initially been given permission from the pre-Harrandi Culture Ministry to be
published the first time.
The Culture Ministry's "special examiners"
have made decisions on the legitimacy of books based on the country's
current political atmosphere and their own political, ideological, or
personal interests. But their decisions have no basis in the law.
Because of this, prohibiting the publication
of officially authorized books has also become a common phenomenon.
In Iran, there are no clear, well-publicized
rules or regulations regarding the censorship of books and publications. Yet
Iranian publishers are obligated to send the first edition of a book to the
Culture Ministry "examiners." If the name of the writer or his work is not
on the "blacklist" of banned writers, then the book will be read and
Afterwards the "examiners" make notes and
comments, suggest modifications, or sometimes even annexations and send it
back to the publisher. When the required changes are made, the publisher
gets permission to publish.
However, even then the publisher must send
several copies of the published book to the Culture Ministry for another
assessment. At this point, sometimes the ministry requires new changes or
even decides on an outright ban of the work. There have been several
incidents in which a book that has was initially authorized is later banned
from being republished.
In the last two years, the removal of parts
and whole pieces of works by well-known poets such as Souzani Samarghandi,
Omar Khayam, Molana Jalaledin Rumi, Nezami Ganjavi, Abid Zakani, Iradj Mirza,
and even some lexicons from Ali Akbar Dehkhoda and Farhang Moeen has
One on a
long list: Amirhossein
Cheheltan (courtesy photo)
Additionally, the works of popular literature
by such people as Samak Ayar and Hossein Kord Shabastri have been published
only after the elimination of some of their main elements.
The main target of censorship has been some
of Iran's best contemporary writers and researchers, such as Sadegh Hedayat,
Sadegh Choobak, Ebrahim Golestan, Gholamhossein Saaedi, Ahmad Kasravi, Ali
Dashti, Ebrahim Poordavoud, Zabih Behrouz, and others.
Some of Hedayat's works were banned from
being published even before this newly raised fever of censorship, but the
efforts made last year by numerous publishers and family members of Hedayat
regarding the republication of an uncensored version of the novel "The Blind
Owl" once again failed to clear the barricade of censorship.
Approval for the republication of Hedayat's
novel "The Vagrant Dog" was also denied by the Culture Ministry due to its
objection of the image used on the book's cover.
Publishers' efforts to reprint some of
Saaedi's prominent works have been futile and the richest part of the drama
literature from the 1960s and 1970s has been banned from being republished.
The approval to publish one of Golestan's longest stories and two
collections of his short stories have also been barred from getting
One of Golestan's short-story collections
has, however, been allowed to be republished under the condition that some
of its stories, including "To be or the role of being and Esmat's journey,"
have been completely removed from the collection.
That story portrays the tragic life of a
prostitute who turns to Imam Reza's shrine for repentance but ends up
getting involved with some criminals involved in sex trafficking.
Not Just Racy Titles
The sharp blade of censorship has even
reached the republication of Bozorg Alavi's famous novel "His Eyes."
Inspired by the life of the Iranian artist Kamalolmolk during the Qadjar
Dynasty, which ruled Persia from 1781-1925, the novel illustrates a 1940s
romantic narrative with a slight political backdrop.
The Culture Ministry's censorship has not
only targeted nonreligious writers but it has even banned the republication
of Jalal Aleahmad's book "A Stone on a Grave," in which the author describes
the depressing story of his own infertility.
Prominent writer Amirhossein Cheheltan
refused to accept an official award in protest of the extreme censorship
that has existed under Harandi. Even some of Cheheltan's novels have been
The Culture Ministry has also banned two long
stories by Asghar Elahi and denied approval for the republication of one of
Norsrat Rahmani's books. In one book, Rahmani portrays the sad and depressed
mood of a lost generation in the 1930s.
Not even an official authorization made by
the Culture Ministry can rescue a writer from prison. Two works by Yaghoub
Yaadali -- which were legally published -- were condemned in the city of
Yaasoudj, and the writer was accused of insulting the people of Lorestan
Province and imprisoned.
The expansion of censorship in Iran has gone
to such an extent that even the manuscript of Tahmineh Milani's movie "Zane
Ziyadi" has been banned from being published despite the fact that the movie
has played in movie theaters.
Also, publication of Morteza Ravandi's first
and second volume of Iran's Social History has been banned regardless of the
fact that it has been published on six different occasions previously.
Within the sphere of non-Iranian writers,
there have not been as many bans because Iranian publishers and translators
make many books acceptable for publication by modifying them to suit the
Culture Ministry. But, even though self-censorship works to a certain
degree, there is still a great amount of official censorship going on.
Last year the Culture and Islamic Guidance
Ministry banned the republication of the books "Evelina," by Isabel Allende,
and Nikos Kazantzakis's "The Last Temptation of Christ" -- which had been
published in Iran four times previously. The novel "Girl With a Pearl
Earring" by Tracy Chevalier, already published six times, was also banned
from being republished.
Censorship has not been restricted to
narrative writing. Several months ago Culture Ministry "examiners" asked
Khosrow Motazed, the writer of "Olamaolsoltan Memoirs," to remove the
pictures in his book. When the writer refused, explaining that they are
historical records, the book was banned from being republished.
The worldwide bestseller "The Da Vinci Code,"
which was sharply criticized even in countries that are predominantly
Christian -- particularly by the Vatican -- was not banned anywhere in the
world except in Iran, where the Culture Ministry disallowed a Persian
translation of the book to be published because of protests by some Iranian
In the last couple of months, the Persian
translation of a collection of Henrik Ibsen's work has also been banned.
Works by that famous Norwegian playwright have been published many times
before and performed on stage in Iran since the 1940s.
The Culture Ministry has constantly ignored
writers' complaints regarding their situation. A complaint made by Yazdi, a
former foreign minister, was bluntly overlooked by a court.
Yazdi's book, "Religious Broad-Mind and Serious
Challenges" has also been banned. A few months ago "Poverty and
Prostitution," a book by Masoud Dehnamaki that was published earlier with
the Culture Ministry's approval, was recalled and banned.
Brown's bestseller was
banned (Wikipedia Commons)
Hossein Brojerdi, the son of former army
commander Mohammad Brojerdi -- whose life story and books have been regarded
as a great Islamic and revolutionary model -- announced in an open letter
that a book he wrote about his father has been banned from being published.
According to Brojerdi, the Culture Ministry "examiners" pointed out to him
70 errors in the book as the reason for it not gaining approval.
The only survivor on last year's long list of
censored books is Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's book "Towards Destiny." In it,
Rafsanjani says that during the Iran-Iraq War, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
agreed to stop using the "Death to America" slogan.
The Culture Ministry tried to ban publication
of the book's second edition after objections to it were made by some
conservative media in Iran, but Rafsanjani's great power and influence
helped him publish the second edition of his book.
A rare success story in the black hole of
(Faraj Sarkouhi was the editor of the Iranian
cultural weekly "Adineh." He was arrested in Iran in the late 1990s and
sentenced to prison for "propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran."
He moved to Germany following his release in 1998 and is now a regular
contributor to Radio Farda with a weekly book report.