News

USIS Washington File

26 April 2000

Text: Human Rights Watch Protests Media Crackdown, Detentions in Iran

(Head of judiciary asked to observe international law) (1570)

Human Rights Watch, a prominent rights organization, sent a letter on
April 25 to Iran's top judicial authority to condemn "the escalating
harassment, intimidation and punishment of the country's independent
journalists and publishers."

"Just in the last few days, the Iranian authorities have closed down
another dozen reformist publications, and thrown more writers and
publishers into prison for criticizing the government," said Hanny
Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa
division of Human Rights Watch.

The protest letter was sent to Sayyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, head
of Iran's Ministry of Justice. Human Rights Watch asked him to ensure
that judicial bodies, such as the Press Court and other courts, judges
and other officials meet their responsibilities under the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This letter comes on the heels of another letter sent to Iran's
Supreme Leader, Sayed Ayatollal Ali Khamenei, by the Committee to
Protect Journalists (CPJ), which stated that 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."
The letter was written after the government on April 14 closed
newspapers and arrested two newspaper writers because of their
articles challenging government policies.

Following are the texts of the Human Rights Watch press release and
letter:

(begin text) 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

IRAN MEDIA CRACKDOWN CONDEMNED
Top Official Urged to End Punitive Detentions, Publication Bans

(New York, April 25, 2000) -- In a letter sent last night to Iran's
top judicial authority, Human Rights Watch condemned the escalating
harassment, intimidation and punishment of the country's independent
journalists and publishers.

"Just in the last few days, the Iranian authorities have closed down
another dozen reformist publications, and thrown more writers and
publishers into prison for criticizing the government," said Hanny
Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa
division of Human Rights Watch.

In April, writer Akbar Ganji and publishers Mashallah Shamsol-Vaezin
and
Latif Safari have been imprisoned for articles they wrote or
published. The Human Rights Watch letter lists the names of numerous
others who have been summoned to appear before the press court and
other official bodies, beginning with Mohamed Reza Khatami, brother of
Iran's president, on March 30.

Megally noted that the crackdown may be related to upcoming run-off
elections for those parliamentary seats that were not decided in
February. "This crackdown appears to be an effort to punish the vast
majority who voted in February for political reform," he said.

The letter was addressed to Sayyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the Head
of the Judiciary. The courts and officials which have ordered the
closures and prison terms come under his authority.

A copy of the letter is attached.

April 24, 2000

His Excellency Sayyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi Head of the Judiciary
Ministry of Justice Park-e shahr, Tehran

Your Excellency:

Human Rights Watch is writing to express grave concern about the
escalating harassment and intimidation of independent journalists and
publishers in Iran. We are particularly alarmed at the rising number
of judicial proceedings since the beginning of Iran's new year just
one month ago. Speaking publicly last Thursday, April 20, the Islamic
Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, harshly criticized
some publications, which he did not name, but endorsed "the free flow
of information" and the principle of press diversity. The events of
the past few days, however, with the government closure of twelve
additional publications and the jailing of another prominent
journalist, have worsened an already very bad situation.

These closures and prosecutions, undertaken by officials and offices
falling under your authority, appear to be politically motivated
rather than stemming from legitimate concern to enforce the law
impartially. They clearly violate Iran's legal obligation to uphold
international freedom of expression and fair trial standards. In some
cases they appear to be in violation of the laws of the Islamic
Republic of Iran as well.

In the latest developments, Akbar Ganji, a staff writer for the daily
Fath, appeared before the Tehran Press Court on Saturday, April 22. At
the hearing, the head of the court, Said Mortazavi, disclosed ten
charges, mostly based on complaints from the joint chiefs of staff of
the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and other security
agencies following articles Ganji wrote about possible official
involvement in the murders of several leading dissidents and writers
in late 1998 and in the March 12 attempted assassination of Said
Hajjarian, a writer and key adviser to President Mohamed Khatami.
Following several hours of interrogation, Ganji was ordered detained
"temporarily" and is now believed to be in Evin prison.

The following day, April 23, Latif Safari, publisher of the banned
daily
Neshat, was imprisoned for two-and-a-half years despite his appeal to
the Supreme Court to void his press court conviction of last
September. On April 10, Mashallah Shamsol-Vaezin, former chief editor
of the banned daily Neshat, also began a two-and-a-half year prison
sentence for publishing an article criticizing the death penalty.
Shamsol-Vaezin was apprehended without being informed that his appeal
had been turned down.

Today, April 24, the Tehran Justice Department, which comes under your
authority, ordered the closure of Akbar-e Iktisad, a Tehran daily.
This followed yesterday's closure orders against eight daily and three
weekly newspapers and one monthly journal, Iran-e Farda. The banned
dailies are Asr-e Azadegan, Bamdad-e Now, Aftab-e Emruz, Payam-e
Azadi, Fath, Arya, Azad, and Gozaresh-e Rouz. The banned weeklies are
Payam-e Hajar, Aban, and Arzesh.

These developments are all the more alarming in light of earlier steps
to intimidate and silence critical and dissenting voices. On April 11,
Emadeddin Baqi, also a Fath staff writer, had been indicted on charges
similar to those brought against Ganji following complaints by the
intelligence ministry, the Revolutionary Guards, and the state
broadcasting organization. Baqi, like Ganji, had also criticized the
house arrest of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the country's
foremost senior dissident cleric, and the imprisonment of a number of
Ayatollah Montazeri's followers.

Your excellency, speaking last week to a group of high judiciary
officials, you addressed the critical responsibility of the judiciary
"to protect and implement the law. It is our legal obligation to do
this." We strongly urge you, in the spirit of these remarks, to take
all steps within your power to bring an end to the unjust detention of
Akbar Ganji, Latif Safari, Mashallah Shamsol-Vaezin, and other
wrongfully imprisoned writers, to terminate the closure orders against
all banned publications, and to insure that the bodies operating under
your authority are no longer used to harass, intimidate, or punish
individuals for attempting to exercise their right to freedom of
expression.

Human Rights Watch's October 1999 report, "As Fragile as a Crystal
Glass: Press Freedom in Iran," detailed the background to these
developments. This latest crackdown against Iranian writers, editors,
and publishers dates from March 30, when Mohamed Reza Khatami,
managing director of Mosharekat and recipient of the highest number of
votes in Tehran in the February parliamentary elections, was summoned
to a press court for questioning. Khatami is currently awaiting trial
in a closed court on charges that have not been made public. On April
9, Fereidoun Verdinejad, managing director of the official Islamic
Republic News Agency (IRNA), was summoned to the press court for a
second time on the basis of complaints from the security forces and
others regarding IRNA's news coverage.

Your excellency, numerous other writers, editors, and publishers have
recently been summoned to appear before the Press Court or other
official bodies solely in connection with their attempts to exercise
their right to freedom of expression. These include: Reza Ansarirad, a
young clergyman who wrote about Ayatollah Montazeri in Aftab-e Emrouz;
Nikeahang Kossar, a cartoonist for Azad; Fatemeh Govarei, a writer who
faces a court hearing after attending a gathering involving Ebrahim
Yazdi; Mujtaba Badei, writer and professor; Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar
Mohtashemi, former minister of interior and now publisher of Ayyam;
Hojatoleslam Hadi Khamene'i, publisher of Hayat-e Noh and brother of
Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i; Morteza Alviri, publisher of Hamshahri
and mayor of Tehran municipality; Yadollah Eslami, publisher of Fath;
and Mohamed Reza Yazdanpanah, publisher of Azad. Mohamed Ghouchani was
summoned to the Ministry of Information following his article about
the Hajjarian attack in Asr-e Azadegan; and Mahdavi Khorami, publisher
of Gozaresh-e Rouz, received a warning from the Ministry of Culture.

Human Rights Watch strongly protests the steps taken against these
individuals whose sole offense has been to exercise their right to
freedom of expression. We ask that you use your office as Head of the
Judiciary to ensure that judicial bodies, such as the Press Court as
well as other courts, are no longer complicit in this process, and
that the judges and other officials working under your direction be
instructed to exercise their responsibilities in a manner consistent
with Iran's obligation as a state party to the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom
of expression and to fair and impartial judicial proceedings.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward
to your early response.

Sincerely,

Hanny Megally, Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa
Division, Human Rights Watch

(end text)

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