On 1 January 2002 Iran held a sad record in the Middle East, with 18 media professionals behind bars - almost twice as many as in 2000. After their defeat in the February 2000 parliamentary elections, the conservatives launched a large-scale offensive against the press, including a liberticidal press law passed on 17 April.
In 2001 parliament was unable to revoke the law since the Guide of the Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei, did everything in his power to ensure that amendments were blocked. The casualties have been heavy. According to the deputy minister of culture and Islamic guidance, 56 publications, including 24 dailies, have been closed since March 2000 - without counting the student press. Dozens of journalists have been arrested and prosecuted on charges such as "anti-Islamic propaganda", "spreading false news" and "insulting Islam", among others.
In June 2001 the families of many political prisoners - including several journalists - called for the intervention of Ayatollah Khamenei, President Khatami and international organisations in favour of detainees. The wife of a jailed journalist pointed out that these arrests were "illegal" and that prisoners had "no opportunity to defend themselves".
Apart from the arbitrary nature of these detentions, many prisoners’ families have complained about their conditions of detention: lack of care, refusal of visits, psychological pressure, and so on. Most of these detentions were ordered by Judge Mortazavi, president of Court N° 1410, the so-called "press court" acting under the orders of Abasali Alizadeh, the all-powerful head of the judiciary in Tehran, charged by the Guide of the Republic to "put an end to press freedom".
In late December, on the occasion of a lecture by Mohammad Khatami at Tehran University, the press called on the president to take a stand. "Khatami must clearly say what problems are facing reform", wrote the daily Hayat-é-No, adding that the president’s speech came at a time "when the opponents of reform are trying to block everything" in the country. The next day the head of state admitted that "his powers were limited" due to the constitutional primacy of the Supreme Guide.
Despite the absence of support from certain political personalities considered to be reformers, and attacks by the conservatives, the press has not thrown in the sponge. With the support of public opinion, new newspapers have been created and debate on the future of reform continues.
For the past few years Iranians and especially the youth have discovered satellite television and the Internet. But here again, hardliners have been quick to attack. In May 400 cybercafes were closed in Tehran and in October at least 1,000 satellite dishes (theoretically forbidden) were confiscated. This measure aimed partly to prevent access to foreign channels and especially opposition channels based in the United States. Lastly, in November the High Council of the Cultural Revolution, a body headed by President Mohammad Khatami but dominated by the conservatives, decreed that all private companies providing access to the Internet had to dismantle their equipment or transfer it to the public sector. This decree was enforced at the end of the year.
New information on journalists killed before 2001
The murders of intellectuals and opponents in November and December 1998 - Darioush and Parvaneh Farouhar, emblematic figures of the liberal opposition, Majid Charif, editorialist for the monthly Iran-é-Farda, writer-journalists Mohamad Mokhtari and Mohamad Jafar Pouyandeh - triggered the mobilisation of a large part of the reformist press. The authorities consequently set up a commission of inquiry. In January 1999 the intelligence ministry had officially recognised the involvement of some of its agents and announced the arrest of dozens of suspects. It seems that Pirouz Davani, editor-in-chief of Pirouz, who disappeared in late August 1998 but whose body was never found, can be added to the victims.
In January 2001, in connection with the inquiry into the murder of the Forouhar couple, 15 agents of the intelligence ministry were sentenced: three to death and 12 to imprisonment. Three other persons suspected of being involved were acquitted. The case was referred to the supreme court which, on 1 January 2002, had still not passed judgement. The victims’ families complained that the people who had ordered the murders had not been prosecuted.
Thirty-three journalists jailed
On 1 January 2002, 28 journalists were behind bars in Iran.
During the year dozens of others also spent time in detention, sometimes for many months, without trial.
Abdollah Nouri, managing editor of the daily Khordad, was arrested on 27 November 1999. The special religious court sentenced him on the same day to five years in jail and a fine of 15 million rials (about 8,000 euros), and ordered the closure of his daily. Abdollah Nouri was found guilty on 15 counts, including "anti-religious propaganda", "insults against Imam Khomeyni", "destabilisation of public opinion" and "relations with the United States".
Akbar Ganji, journalist with the daily Sobh-é-Emrouz, was arrested on 22 April 2000 after a press court hearing. The journalist was prosecuted for his disclosures on the murders of opponents and intellectuals at the end of 1998, and for his articles in favour of Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, under house arrest since 1989. Akbar Ganji was also accused of participating in the Berlin conference on reform in Iran, judged anti-Islamic by the country’s authorities. During a court hearing the journalist said he had been tortured in jail.
On 13 January 2001 he was sentenced to ten years in jail. In May, on appeal, his sentence was reduced to six months. However, on 15 July the supreme court quashed the judgement under the pretext of irregularities in the appeal procedure. The journalist’s sentence was increased to six years. In December he was allowed out for five days.
Khalil Rostamkhani, journalist with Daily News and Iran Echo, was arrested in May 2000. He appeared on 9 November in the Tehran revolutionary court where the prosecutor accused him of being a "mohareb" (fighter against God), of "receiving and distributing leaflets and communiqués by opposition groups based abroad, and participating in the organisation of the Berlin conference which was prejudicial to state security", and called for the death sentence. The journalist was released on bail on 16 November. On 13 January 2001 he was sentenced to nine years in jail. He remained free until 25 August when he was sentenced, on appeal, to eight years in jail. He was first detained in Evine prison in Tehran before being transferred, on 11 October, to Bandar Abbas prison in southern Iran.
On 29 May 2000 Emadoldin Baghi, journalist with the daily Fath, was arrested after a press court hearing. He was sentenced on 17 July to five and a half years’ imprisonment for "betrayal of national security" and "spreading false news". The journalist was accused of defending a modern view of Islam regarding the death sentence, in an editorial in Neshat in September 1999. The Guardians of the Revolution (Pasdarans) and a former intelligence minister had filed a complaint against the journalist. His sentence was reduced to three years’ imprisonment on 23 October.
The managing editor of Iran-é-Farda, Ezatollah Sahabi, was arrested on 26 June 2000 on orders of the Tehran revolutionary court after he had participated in the Berlin conference. Ezatollah Sahabi was summoned to appear in court on 30 April, after his return from Germany.
On 21 August he was released on bail but was arrested again on 17 December and accused of "anti-government propaganda", primarily because of a lecture he gave in November 2000 at Amir-Kabir technical university in Tehran. On 13 January 2001 he was sentenced to four and a half years in jail. After visiting him in jail in February, his family said they were "shocked" by the physical and psychological state of the 75-year-old journalist who was not even able to recognise them. In December his sentence was reduced to six months but he was not released.
Hassan Youssefi Echkevari, theologian and contributor to the monthly Iran-é-Farda, was detained in Evine prison in Tehran on 5 August 2000, after a search at his home. In April he had travelled to Europe to participate in the Berlin conference and receive treatment for diabetes. During his trial in camera in the special clerical court, from 7 to 15 October, he was accused of "subversive activities against national security", of "libel against the authorities", of "undermining the clergy’s prestige" and of being a "mohareb" (fighter against God). On 1 January 2002 the verdict had still not been made public although Hassan Youssefi Echkevari’s son was informed by a judge that his father had been sentenced to two years in jail.
One of the editors of the banned magazine Iran-é-Farda, Hoda Saber, was jailed on 28 January 2001. His wife said she was not aware of the reasons for this arrest. In July his sister, Firouzeh Saber, was detained for a few days for "refusing to collaborate" with the courts.
On orders of Judge Said Mortazavi, Mohammad-Bagher Vali-Beik, managing director of the company Jamée-é-Rouz, was arrested on 12 February and jailed in Tehran. Jamée-é-Rouz is a major publishing company founded after the election of President Mohammad Khatami, which for the previous three years had published most reformist publications now suspended. He was released on 21 February.
Fariba Davoudi-Mohadjer, journalist with the dailies Fath and Khordad, was arrested on 15 February and incarcerated in Tehran on orders of the revolutionary court. The journalist was arrested after a long search at her home by several policemen who confiscated her articles, a book on Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri (former successor designated then disgraced by Imam Khomeyni) and communiqués of a student movement. She was released on 12 March.
Security agents arrested Reza Alijani, editor-in-chief of the suspended monthly Iran-é-Farda, on 24 February and took him to his home which had been searched. He was then imprisoned on orders of the revolutionary court, without any explanation. The journalist was detained for 200 days in solitary confinement before being transferred, in October, to a cell with two other journalists. His lawyer was refused permission to see either his client or his file. Reza Alijani is one of the rare journalists who, in interviews with foreign radio stations and articles in the national and international press, dared to defend press freedom in Iran. In an interview in 1999 with the daily Arya, he mentioned, for the first time in Iran, the murders in 1989 of thousands of prisoners by the authorities. The journalist, Reporters Without Borders-Fondation de France prizewinner in 2001, was released on bail on 16 December.
On the evening of 11 March agents of the judiciary organised a raid on the home of Mohammad Bastehnaghar - one of the progressive opposition leaders, writer and contributor to Asr-é-Azadegan - at which about 30 persons were gathered. Taghi Rahmani from the banned weekly Omid-é-Zangan, Hossin Rafai and Saide Mandani from the suspended monthly Iran-é-Farda, Ali-Reza Redjai from Asr-é-Azadegan, and Morteza Khazemian and Reza Rais-Toussi from the suspended daily Fath were all arrested, along with Mohammad Bastehnaghar. The next day the president of the Tehran revolutionary courts said that the persons arrested "were trying to foment a plot against the Islamic regime". Hossin Rafai was released on 11 August, Ali-Reza Redjai on 22 August, Morteza Khazamian on 6 October and Mohammad Bastehnaghar on 3 September. However, Taghi Rahmani, Saide Madani and Reza Rais-Toussi (who has had major health problems) are still in jail. In December a justice ministry official said to Taghi Rahmani’s wife, Narghes Mohamadi: "If we’d killed your husband in the 1980s he wouldn’t be giving us problems now".
About 40 people were arrested on 7 April and placed in police custody. Among them, Reza Tehrani, editor-in-chief of the suspended magazine Kian, and Fazlollah Salavati, editor-in-chief of the suspended Ispahan weekly Navid-é-Esfahan, were accused of "collaborating with counter-revolutionary groups". The persons arrested were all close to the MLI, the Movement for the Liberation of Iran, a progressive Islamist party banned in March. On 17 April Fazlollah Salavati was released on bail. Reza Tehrani is still detained.
Student leader Hechmatollah Tabarzadi, with Hoviat-é-Khich, was arrested on 17 April and released on bail on 29 October without being tried.After seven hours of questioning on 21 April the judge of the Tehran press court ordered the detention of Amid Naini, editor-in-chief of the suspended monthly Peyam-é-Emrouz. The court accused the journalist of publishing an article denouncing the recitation of Koranic verses as "a practice based on superstition", and another describing the angel Gabriel - who, according to Islam, dictated the Koran to the prophet Mahomet - as an "imaginary creature". He was released on 11 July. Mohammed Javad Akbarian, of Sobh-é-Emrouz, was arrested on 21 April. He was sentenced to one year in jail on 19 November but released without serving his entire sentence.
Hamid Jafari-Nasrabadi and Mahmoud Mojdayi, respectively managing editor and journalist of the student magazine Kavir, were detained in Tehran on 9 May after several hours of questioning by a press court judge. They were accused of publishing an article judged "blasphemous" and "indecent". The court also ordered the suspension of the magazine. In early December the two men were sentenced to five and three years in jail, respectively.
Two journalists with the student magazine Kavir, Reza Nadimi and Mehdi Aminizadeh, were released on bail on 28 May after appearing in the Tehran court. They were accused of publishing a "blasphemous" and "indecent" article. Mehdi Aminizadeh was released on 9 June. Reza Nadimi is still behind bars.
On 25 June, after "complaints by several cultural and Islamic associations" at Yazd University in central Iran, Ali Fallah and Babak Ghani-Pour, on the editorial staff of the magazine Arman published at the university, were arrested.
Morteza Taghi-Pour, Rouzbeh Chafii and Mohammad-Reza Chirvand, with the student magazine Faryad, were detained on 30 June and released on 22 August.
On 10 November the clerical court ordered the arrest of Issa Khandan, society desk editor for two dailies, Khordad and Fath. His wife said she did not know why the journalist, who was refused all visits, had been arrested.
Siamak Pourzand, who contributed to Iranian opposition radio stations based in the United States, was arrested on 24 November. His arrest could be related to his position as director of Majmue-ye Farrhangi-ye Honari-ye Tehran, a cultural centre where he received artists, intellectuals and writers. Siamak Pourzand is well-known for his hostile articles on the Islamist regime. He is married to Mehrangiz Kar, a human rights lawyer jailed for two months in 2000 and sentenced in January 2001 to four years’ imprisonment. In December her sentence was commuted to a fine. According to certain conservative newspapers, the journalist admitted to having relations with the United States after receiving money from abroad and distributing it to pro-reform journalists. Late in December Mohsen Mirdamadi, managing editor of Noroz and president of the parliamentary security commission said, with reference to the arrest of Siamak Pourzand and the murders of intellectuals in late 1998, that "far from being dismantled", the group of "murderers" was "in the process of being built up again".
Five journalists arrested before 2001 were released.
Morteza Firouzi, editor-in-chief of Iran News, was arrested in May 1997. After a trial held in camera in January 1998 he was sentenced to death for "adultery" and "espionage". On 3 June 1998 the supreme court quashed the death sentence and referred the case to the court of first instance. The journalist was released on 8 July 2001.
The editor-in-chief of the daily Neshat, Machallah Chamsolvaezine, was arrested on 10 April 2000. He had been sentenced in a first trial, in November 1999, to three years in jail and a fine of 12 million rials (about 6,500 euros). On 9 August the supreme court found the journalist guilty of "insulting Islam" but commuted his sentence to two and a half years in jail. The journalist was pardoned and released on 12 September 2001.
The managing editor of the reformist daily Neshat, Latif Safari, was jailed on 23 April 2000. After being sentenced by the press court in November 1999 to two and a half years in jail and banned from all journalistic activity, he appealed. Neshat had been banned in September 1999 for defending a modern view of Islam regarding the death sentence. He was released on 21 July 2001.
Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, journalist with the daily Hamchahri and the weekly Iran-é-Farda, was arrested at his home on 7 August 2000 by about 12 civil plainclothes policemen. He was accused of "insulting the Guide of the Islamic Republic", Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, "publicly insulting" its founder, Imam Khomeyni, and "anti-Islamic propaganda". In February 2001 he went on a hunger strike in protest against his conditions of detention. Ahmad Zeid-Abadi was released on 8 March after paying a very big amount in bail.
On 30 December 2000 the hodjatoleslam (a religious title) Ali Afsahi, editor-in-chief of the cultural and sports magazine Cinama-Varzech, was sentenced to four months in jail by the special clerical court. The cleric, who was arrested at the end of the trial, was sentenced for "insulting and libelling the clergy". Considered as a specialist on the cinema, he was charged because of a speech he gave in Bouchehr, in southern Iran, on the Iranian cinema. He was released late in April, after serving his sentence.