The closure of Aseman newspaper is being seen as another example of intolerance by the conservatives towards different points of view, particularly reformist voices.
The independent centrist daily was shut down only after five days and yet its professional style had already created a refreshing buzz in the highly-controlled Iranian media market. The official reason for the shut-down is an article which described the Islamic “qesas” retribution laws as “inhumane”.
“I omitted the suffix inhumane in the edited version, but unfortunately the technical team sent the unedited version for publishing. Considering that our newspaper is newly launched and has a shortage of facilities, such mistakes can happen,” Aseman’s managing director, Abbas Bozorgmehr told ISNA news agency.
Bozorgmehr was arrested over the article and freed on $100,000 bail.
Aseman appears to be a victim of the ongoing power struggle between the conservatives and the centrist administration of President Hasan Rouhani who enjoys the support of reformists.
In its first issue, the banned daily carried an op-ed penned by former reformist President Mohammad Khatami calling for inclusive societal dialogue.
Reacting to the ban, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, former chief editor of several banned newspapers, challenged the Head of the Judiciary Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani to a public debate about the harsh approach to the press.
“The Iranian Judiciary has developed a habit of banning and closing the entire publication whenever what they consider to be a mistake occurs,” Shamsolvaezin said in an interview with BBC Persian about his open letter to Larijani.
“At Aseman Newspaper, about 100 families lost their livelihoods [as a result of the ban]. My question to Mr. Larijani is whether in the case of a mistake by a surgeon at a hospital, leading to the death of a patient, he would ban their entire hospital and close it down? If this is not the case, then the same should be true for a newspaper, for publications,” he said.
Meanwhile Aseman’s deputy editor Mehrdad Kheirandish has accused conservative rivals of intolerance.
“Conservative media organizations like Fars and Tasnim look at Aseman as competition and they do not want anyone in the arena but themselves. These media outlets do not tolerate competition,” he told Tadbir news website.
Member of parliament Ali Motahhari criticized the paper for its “one-sided” insult to “indisputable Islamic laws” but described the swift ban as an action fit only for “times of war, not normal times.”
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