News

USIS Washington File

25 April 2000

Text: Letter of Protest to Iranian President

(Free press group protests paper closings, arrests)(910)

A prominent journalistic organization sent a letter of protest to the
supreme leader of Iran April 24 in response to the latest crackdown on
press freedom in that country. The Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ) says the closing of reformist newspapers and the arrest of
journalists is a "flagrant violation of their right to free expression
as guaranteed under international law."

CPJ is a U.S. based organization dedicated to protecting the freedom
of journalists to report. Its letter to Sayed Ayatollal Ali Khamenei
comes after government actions April 23-24 closing 14 newspapers and
arresting two newspaper writers because of their articles challenging
government policies.

By April 25, a CPJ spokesman said the daily paper Sobhi-i Emruz,
closed by judicial order April 24, was allowed to resume publication,
bringing the number of banned publications in Iran to 13, instead of
14 as originally stated in the CPJ letter to Khamenei.

The latest action came after a speech last week in which Khamenei
accused some publications of "undermining Islamic and revolutionary
principles, insulting constitutional bodies and creating tension and
discord in society."

Some regional analysts describe the press crackdown as an attempt by
Iranian hardliners to counter the rejection they suffered at the
ballot box in February when voters endorsed reform candidates in
parliamentary elections.

This is the second letter of protest CPJ has sent to Iran's Supreme
Leader this month. An April 14 letter protested the imprisonment of
three journalists.

Following is the text of the CPJ letter:

(begin text)

Committee to Protect Journalists 

Iran: Judicial authorities ban 14 newspapers, jail two journalists

April 24, 2000

His Excellency Sayed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran 
c/o Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United
Nations
622 3rd Ave, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10017


BY FACSIMILE: 212-867-7086

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged about the
recent closure of 14 Iranian newspapers and the imprisonment of
journalists Akbar Ganji and Latif Safari.

On April 23 and 24, Iranian judicial authorities ordered the
indefinite closure of 14 newspapers and magazines for "continuing to
publish articles against the bases of the luminous ordinances of Islam
and the religious sanctities of the noble people of Iran and the
pillars of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic." A communiqué
issued by the authorities on April 23 and published in the local press
added that the newspapers had been closed in order to "prevent them
from committing new offenses, from affecting society's opinions, and
arousing concern among the people."

The first wave of closures coincided with the April 23 jailing of
Latif Safari, director of the banned daily Neshat, which was closed by
court order in September, 1999. Safari was taken to Evin prison after
an appellate court upheld a 30-month jail sentence that the court had
imposed on September 20, 1999. Safari was convicted on several
charges, including defamation, inciting unrest, and "insulting the
sanctity and tenets of Islam." These charges stem from articles
published in Neshat during Safari's tenure as director, including an
opinion piece that challenged the use of capital punishment in Iran.

The banned publications are: Asr-e-Azadegan, Fat'h, Aftab-e-Emrooz,
Arya, Gozaresh-e-Ruz, Bamdad-e-No, Payam-e-Azadi, Azad, Payam-e-Hajar,
Aban, Arzesh, Iran-e-Farda, Sobh-e-Emrooz, and Akhbar Eqtesad.

One day before Safari's imprisonment, journalist Akbar Ganji, who
writes for the daily Sobh-e-Emrooz, was arrested after being summoned
by a Revolutionary Court to hear a number of complaints filed against
him concerning articles that he had published in Iranian newspapers.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), citing Ganji's
attorney, reported on Saturday that a total of ten complaints had been
filed against the journalist by government institutions that included
the Revolutionary Guards, an elite military unit under Your
Excellency's direct control, and the Intelligence Ministry.

At least three other Iranian journalists are currently in prison as a
result of their journalistic work and in clear violation of their
internationally guaranteed right to free expression. We note with
grave concern that this recent wave of attacks against the Iranian
press follows public statements Your Excellency made last week in
which you said that "there are 10 to 15 papers writing as if they are
directed from one center, undermining Islamic and revolutionary
principles, insulting constitutional bodies and creating tension and
discord in society."

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending
press freedom worldwide, CPJ views the imprisonment of Akbar Ganji and
Latif Safari and the banning of 14 newspapers as a flagrant violation
of their right to free expression, as guaranteed under international
law. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants
all people, including journalists, the right to "seek, receive, and
impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of
frontiers."

CPJ urges Your Excellency to exert your influence to ensure that all
five journalists imprisoned in Iran are freed immediately. In addition
to Ganji and Safari, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Mohsen Kadivar, and
Abdullah Nouri are also serving lengthy prison sentences for
journalism-related offenses. We also call on you to ensure that
judicial authorities immediately reverse Sunday's decision to close
the 14 newspapers.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to
your timely response.

Sincerely, 
Ann K. Cooper Executive Director

(end text)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs,
U.S.Department of State. Web site:http://usinfo.state.gov)