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Iran annual Report 2002 (2/2)

Four journalists arrested

Naghi Afchari, managing editor of the weekly Hadis in Ghazvin in western Iran, was arrested on 27 January 2001 and incarcerated. He was accused of "criticising the judicial authorities" and publishing an "insulting" cartoon on the judiciary. His weekly was suspended on the same day. The journalist was released two days later. Abbas Dalvand, managing editor of the magazine Lorestan, was arrested on 14 February and jailed in the western town of Khorammabad. He was accused of "libel", "publishing lies" and "insulting judicial and revolutionary institutions" of the government. He was released on 16 February. On 9 May the journalist was charged with "publishing insults and lies" against several state institutions, sentenced to nine months in jail and banned from practising journalism for three years. Abbas Dalvand, who appealed, is still free.

Narghues Mohammadi, journalist for Peyam Ajar, a weekly suspended since April 2000, was arrested on 28 August after appearing in the Tehran revolutionary court as a "witness". Highly active in the movement to free political prisoners in Iran, Narghues Mohammadi is a member of the editorial committee of Peyam Ajar and of the Iranian journalist’s association, close to President Khatami.

Ali Hamed Imam, managing editor of the reformist weekly Shams-é-Tabrizi, published in the north-western town of Tabriz, was detained on 17 December after appearing in court. The journalist was accused on 17 counts, including "insulting religion" and "publication of untrue and libellous articles". He was released on bail the next day.

Pressure and obstruction

The press court sentenced Ibrahim Nabavi on 10 January 2001 to eight months in jail for "publishing lies, insults against government officials and unfounded accusations". This contributor to the now banned reformist newspapers Tous and Jameh was arrested on 12 August then released on bail on 18 November 2000. The day of his arrest he had received a prize for the best political humorist.

On 17 January the reformist monthly Kiyan was banned. Judge Said Mortazavi, president of the press court, said that the magazine had "published lies likely to disturb public order".

During the night of 2 to 3 February Geneive Abdo, journalist with The Guardian and The International Herald Tribune, and her husband Jonathan Lyons, manager of the Reuters agency in Tehran, were expelled from Iran. According to Geneive Abdo, they were threatened with prosecution for breaking a law which the Iranian authorities say prohibits interviews with political prisoners. On 23 January The International Herald Tribune had published an interview with Akbar Ganji, a journalist jailed for ten years. In this interview the journalist had suggested "a possible kickback against the conservative [Iranian] establishment". The director general of the foreign press, Mohammad-Reza Khochvaght, explained that "these two journalists contravened rules and a code of conduct and misquoted Akbar Ganji". On 4 February the culture ministry announced that the manager of Reuters, Jonathan Lyons, "will not be authorised to return to Tehran".

Davoud Allah-Verdi, Daryoush Imani and Mohammad Bazgir, journalists with Ruzdara, a daily in the Zahedan region in south-eastern Iran, were sentenced to jail on 24 February by the revolutionary court for periods ranging from three months and seven days to five and a half months, for a libellous article. The same court ordered the suspension of the daily which had already been closed for several weeks from August 2000. The three journalists, who appealed, were not incarcerated.

The courts ordered the suspension of the conservative political weekly Harim on 8 March for "libel" against President Mohammad Khatami. In an article headed "Mr. Khatami’s slogan", the weekly mocked the president who, during the 1997 election campaign, "had promised to establish the rule of law and civil society in Iran".

On 11 March Mohammad Hassan Alipour, managing editor of the banned weekly Aban, was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and banned from practising journalism for five years. He was accused, among other things, of "spreading lies likely to disturb public opinion". The journalist appealed.

The daily Dorran-é-Emrouz, the two weeklies Mobine and Jamée-Madani, and the monthly Peyam-é-Emrouz, were suspended on 18 March on orders of the judiciary. An official in the judiciary affirmed that the suspension of Peyam-é-Emrouz had been decided because of the "multiple offences" and "complaints" against the newspaper, known to be hostile to the conservatives.

Amin-é-Zanjan, a weekly in the western province of Zanjan, was banned on 25 April for publishing articles likely to "cause riots in the town".

The reformist daily Nosazi was suspended on 9 May, four days after its first issue. The Tehran court explained that the managing editor, Hamid-Reza Jalai-Pour, was not "competent" to edit the daily. He was also accused, as manager of the publishing company Jamée-é-Rouz - which distributed the now banned reformist publications Neshat, Asr-é-Azadegan and Akhbar-é-Eghtessadi - of publishing "criminal" articles.

From 8 to 13 May about 400 cybercafes were closed in Tehran. The Iranian authorities gave cybercafes an ultimatum to obtain "a work permit and an Internet operating licence" quickly. In case of non-approval by the union of users of administrative machines and computers, a conservative-run body, the police could intervene to close the establishment. After the election of Mohammed Khatami as President of the Islamic Republic in 1997, hundreds of cybercafes opened in Tehran. The Internet is controlled at several levels in Iran. First, the intelligence ministry controls the state access provider Data Communication company of Iran (DCI). The DCI then screens (or tries to) pornographic sites and the sites of opposition movements based within the country or abroad. Lastly, private access providers, who have to be approved by the intelligence and Islamic guidance ministries, also have a system to screen sites and e-mail. Every Iranian Internet user is supposed to sign a document when s/he logs on, in which s/he undertakes not to visit "non-Islamic" sites.

A journalist with the weekly Asr-é-ma, Hamid-Reza Kaviani, disappeared on 21 May in the middle of Tehran. He was released a few hours later. The journalist had already been kidnapped for a few hours once before, on 15 April, by unidentified individuals. He was so badly treated by his abductors that he had to be hospitalised, in a serious condition.

Arman, the student magazine at Yazd University, was suspended and closed on 26 June. It was accused of being the work of "unspecified" Islamic and cultural groups in Iran.

The reformist weekly Farday-é-Rochan had its licence withdrawn on 4 August for "publishing articles which were untrue, libellous and counter to public morals". Davood Bayat, managing editor, was ordered to pay a fine of 4.5 million rials (2,400 euros) for "publishing lies and insults". In the previous week the licence of the reformist daily Fath had been definitively withdrawn. This newspaper had been sentenced in April 2000 to six months’ suspension.

On 8 August the reformist weekly Hambastaghi was suspended as a "preventive measure", according to the justice ministry. The publication was also charged with publishing articles that were "untrue, libellous and hostile to the regime". At the same time, the intelligence minister asked Gholamheidar Ebrahimbay Salami, managing editor, for the name of the author of the incriminating articles. The journalist was questioned for several days by agents from the ministry. The weekly was allowed to reappear on 20 August.

The reformist weekly Mehr, edited by the hodjatoleslam Mohammad-Ali Zam, was suspended on 8 September following complaints about the publication of "lies" and "insults". The origin of the complaints is unknown.

On 10 September the Iranian appeal court upheld the suspension of three very popular newspapers. Tous, Neshat and Asr-é-Azadégan had been banned in September 1998, September 1999 and April 2000, respectively.

On 10 September the Iranian appeal court upheld the verdict concerning Massoud Behnoud, contributor to Adineh, Neshat and Asr-é-Azadegan, who remained free after being sentenced to 19 months in jail and a fine of 5,703,750 Iranian rials (3,596 euros). The journalist had been arrested on 9 August 2000 after over 50 complaints were filed against him, some of them by the state prosecutor and the extremist group Ansar-Hezbollah. Some of these complaints concerned articles that he had written in the monthly Adineh, suspended in 1998. Massoud Behnoud also participated in programmes in Persian on foreign radio stations such as the BBC and Voice of America. He was released on bail on 16 December 2000.

The Qom court decided on 22 September to suspend the weekly Rahian-Feyzieh for "lack of respect for the Iranian president Mohammad Khatami and the former culture minister Ataollah Mohadjerani".

On 12 October the penal court in Qazvin sentenced Fatemeh Govarai, journalist for Omid-é-Zangan and Peyam Ajar, on appeal, to six months’ imprisonment and 50 lashes for "publication of lies and libel". The journalist, close to opposition movements, had been interviewed by the newspaper Vlayat, in which she denounced the presence of "pressure groups" during a legal gathering of Mr. Yazdi, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Iran in the northern town of Gazvin. Fatemeh Govarai appealed. The journalist had been arrested on 11 March 2001 during a raid on the home of Mohammad Bastehnaghar, then released the next day. An Iranian court ordered the suspension of the reformist weekly Amin-é-Zanjan on 30 October and sentenced Jafar Karami, its managing editor, to 91 days in jail. The reasons given were the publication of articles "insulting to the most senior officials and the Islamic regime", and incitement "to dissension between the different classes of the population". The sentence was eventually commuted to two years, suspended, in view of the mutilations the journalist had received during the Iran-Iraq war.

Late in October at least 1,000 satellite dishes were confiscated and 70 people arrested, either because they owned one or because they installed them. These measures were intended to ban access to foreign channels, especially opposition channels based in the United States. These channels had broadcast images of demonstrations after football matches, which allegedly exacerbated the participants’ violence. In 1995 the Iranian parliament promulgated a law banning satellite dishes in an attempt to "cleanse" Iran of Western influences. This law is not, however, strictly obeyed. Iranians conceal satellite dishes under canvas sheets or disguise them in air conditioning systems.

The financial daily Akhbar-é-Eghtessadi was banned on 27 November. Said Mortazavi, presiding judge of the press court, stipulated that according to the law the newspaper, published in 1997 and 1998 under the names Akhbar then Akhbar-é-Eghtessadi, had already been banned by a court and could not reappear. The daily had been suspended in 2000 but was subsequently allowed to appear again.

An Iranian court sentenced Abbas Ershad, editor-in-chief of the reformist weekly Amin-é-Zanjan, on 9 December to 30 lashes and a fine of several hundred euros, and banned him from practising journalism. The journalist was charged with "insulting the justice department" of the town of Zanjan in western Iran. He appealed.

Neda-yé-Hormozgan, a reformist weekly published in the southern province of Hormozgan, was suspended on 12 December and its managing editor, Gholam-Hossein Ataiee, sentenced to five years in jail, suspended. Mohammad Salamati, managing editor of the reformist weekly Asr-é-Ma, was sentenced on 15 December to 26 months in jail. His weekly was also suspended. He was charged with "spreading a rumour" about an attempt to oust President Khatami. The journalist has appealed.

On 22 December the authorities of Ferdossi de Machad University in north-eastern Iran ordered the definitive closure of the student magazine Nazar, close to the reformists and edited by Javad Seifi Abdolabad. The reasons for this measure are unknown. According to the magazine, the editor’s "file" was handed over to the university’s disciplinary committee.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Guide of the Islamic Republic, has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.

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1. Introduction North Africa and the Middle East annual Report 2002
Palestinian Authority
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see also
Annual report 2002

Hard times for press freedom
Africa annual report 2002
Asia annual report 2002
Americas annual report 2002
Europe annual report 2002