Thoughts from Contemporary Thinkers

Ettelaat—an Iranian Newspaper—condemns media censorship in Iran

MADRID, Dec 28 2015 (IPS) - On Wednesday 9th of December, the Iranian Newspaper Ettelaat published a front page editorial urging President Rouhani to condemn the ban on publishing the name or images of the previous president and reformist, Mohammad Kathami.

Just one day prior, the editor, Mahmoud Doaei was indicted for defying the national ban on mentioning Mohammad Kathami in the media. Regardless of the ban and the indictment, the editor published a letter on the front page of the newspaper, addressed to the current President Hassan Rouhani, urging him to condemn the censorship and stating that the ban goes against Iran´s constitution.

The front-page editorial on Wednesday mentioned Khatami´s full name three times. Doeaei stated in his article: “The esteemed prosecutor of Tehran held a meeting with a number of managing editors including myself recently, in which he demanded us not to publish articles or images relating to Hojatoleslam [an Islamic honorific title] Khatami.” He then continued: “I told him in that very meeting that this decision is arbitrary; there is no legislation or law backing it and that Ettelaat would not accept it.”

The editor of Ettelaat tried to use a moderate language and avoided underlining sensitive political matters. In his Farsi translation, he first defied the imposed ban by printing on Saturday an interview Khatami had recently given to As-Safir, a Lebanese newspaper and printed along with it images of the reformist. On Tuesday Doaei was indicted for ignoring the Ban, and on Wednesay he again published another article naming Khatami and said he would keep doing so despite the threats of prosecution.

The ban in itself was not imposed by Rouhani or his government, but by the judiciary system in the country and its media, which act independently. Nonetheless the president is bound under the constitution to speak out and defend the freedom of press and his people’s rights, which he has not yet done.

Khatami was president from 1997 to 2005 and was a crucial supporter in the campaign for President Rouhani in 2013. When he was sworn into office in 1998 he expressed his respect for human rights and promoted freedom of expression. But starting in spring 2000, Iranian authorities started to shut down pro-reformist publications, TV and Radios and despise Khatami condemning the closures, he said he was powerless to prevent them.

Censorship in media in Iran is not new; the government has been actively shutting down reformist papers for years now, but what is new, is the recent shift of scrutiny from newspapers to internet sites and blogs. Although media control is something ongoing in Iran, Journalists, until recently, were able to find their voice through the internet—a source that has allowed them to reach mass audiences at low monetary costs. Now the conservative government has turned its repressive watch toward the internet and has blocked online reformist newspapers and websites.

The Iranian constitution has made explicit in that censorship is prohibited, but the country has one of the worst records of press freedom. Dozens of journalists and bloggers are behind bars. Journalists also suffer other forms of censorship that include harassment, confiscating their passports and summoning them for interrogation. Among the jailed reports, is Jason Razaian, an Iranian-American journalist from the Washington Post who has been held prisoner on charges of spying for more than a year. His fate is still ambiguous.


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