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Iran Official Slams Ahmadinejad-Era Censorship


By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati has said that book censorship was too strict under the country's former government. In comments quoted by Iran's semi-official ILNA news agency on October 8, Jannati said censors would have rejected the Koran, which Muslims believe is a revelation by God.

Censorship (cartoon by Mana Neyestani)

"If the Koran hadn't been sent by God and we had handed it to book censors, they wouldn't have issued permission to publish it and would have argued that some of the words in it are against public virtue," he said.

Jannati said he had reviewed some of the titles that the administration of former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad censored and concluded that in many cases, censors had objected to "irrelevant" issues.

He also said in many instances censors had based their decisions on personal opinions, and added that the reviewers lacked the necessary expertise.

Jannati has been culture minister since August after being chosen by Hassan Rohani, the moderate cleric who was elected president in June and who has promised to give Iranians more freedoms.

But limits remain. Jannati hedged his comments by also saying that book censorship will continue in Iran because the government must act in accordance with rulings made by the Supreme National Security Council and the parliament.

"How can we allow some problematic books to poison the society?" he asked.

Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati speaking against book censorship (source: Etemaad daily)

Jannati's comments about Iran's aggressive censorship of literary materials aren't likely to surprise the Iranian writers and publishers who have experienced firsthand the draconian rules enforced by Ahmadinejad's Culture Ministry.

Many have spoken out against the rules, warning that censorship has caused a decline in the number of books published in Iran and in readership levels.

Writer and poet Farkhondeh Hajizadeh told RFE/RL in 2012 that only two pages of one of her books had been approved for publication.

How Censorship Works

Writers and publishers must submit their books to the Culture Ministry before applying for publication. The books are vetted by censors who look for material deemed immoral, anti-Islamic, or politically sensitive.

The censors can ask authors to remove words or whole chapters before permission to publish is granted.

In some cases, writers have waited years before receiving the necessary approval.

A few days before Jannati's remarks, more than 200 Iranian writers, poets, and translators called on him to lift the censorship policy and allow authors to take responsibility for their own writing.

In an open letter published by several Iranian news sites, they said the widespread censorship of recent years had created an atmosphere of fear that would not go away easily. They suggested that a committee be created within the Culture Ministry that writers could consult to avoid breaching guidelines.

Under Ahmadinejad, censors even banned certain already-published books as unsuitable.

Censorship reached such extreme levels that even some works of classical Persian literature had parts redacted or were banned outright.

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