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memri
March 29, 2006 No.
1127

Iranian Reformist Website: The Regime is Trying to Silence Internal Dissent Regarding Iran's Nuclear Program

The reformist Internet daily Rooz recently reported that several reformist papers and news agencies had been threatened by government officials for publishing criticism of Iran's nuclear policies. The media were also instructed by government officials as to the preferred manner of reporting on Iran's nuclear crisis. Commenting on this issue, reformist journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi [1] reported on an open letter signed by five reformists criticizing the situation in Iran. Zeidabadi claimed that reformists avoid criticizing the regime in an explicit and unconstrained manner, since if they did so, they would be presented as enemies of Iran and its national interests. Their forced self-censorship, he says, enables the regime to present a united domestic front, and to claim that there is a national consensus regarding the necessity for the regime's nuclear program.

The following is a report on the Rooz article regarding the constraints imposed on the Iranian media, and excerpts from Zeidabadi's article: [2]

Attempts by the Iranian Regime to Silence Internal Criticism of its Nuclear Program

Rooz reports that the reformist daily Sharq was issued a serious official warning and reprimand for publishing an interview with a Majlis member, Khoshchehreh, who had criticized government policies. A similar warning was issued to the newly launched reformist daily Etemad Melli [owned by reformist cleric Mehdi Karoubi, former speaker of the sixth Majlis] which was threatened with closure after criticizing the government's handling of the nuclear issue. [3]

These warnings came at a time when the Iranian government had officially instructed the media not to publish critical reports concerning Iran's sensitive nuclear talks or decisions. The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, had specifically instructed the press not to present Iran's nuclear situation as a failure. More recently, he also met personally with several managing editors. He instructed them to write about Iran's perseverance in the nuclear talks, and to refrain from publishing news about the possibility of military action against the country, threatening to revoke their publishing licenses should they fail to heed his instructions.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which is responsible for monitoring the media and press in Iran, has recently formed a new committee to oversee and closely monitor the materials published by the news agencies, especially [the reformist news agencies] Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) and the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA).

An Open Letter by Five Reformists

Zeidabadi writes about an open letter, titled "A Warning about the Dangers Facing the Revolution," that was sent by five reformists - Ezatollah Sahabi, Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyed Javadi, Mostafa Katiraie, Ali Akbar Moinfar, and Ebrahim Yazdi - all of whom had belonged to the Revolutionary Council during the early years of the Revolution, and had held senior posts in the interim government of prime minister Mehdi Bazargan immediately following the collapse of the monarchy in Iran.

In the letter, the five warn that "the political, economic, social and cultural situation in Iran is dangerous," and advise the leadership "to come to its senses and accept reality, [instead of] taking the path that has already been tried." They add that "when the state is subject to serious threats, it should open the door to all factions in the nation, and to all the different views and outlooks, and should reach a national consensus by changing the paradigms [of the regime]."

Commenting on this letter, Zeidabadi wrote: "The issue that caused these political figures more concern than any other is the escalation of Iran's nuclear crisis, which has led to the possibility of economic sanctions by the U.N. Security Council, or even to use of military force against Iran.

"[However], the authors of the letter do not explicitly mention the nuclear issue, but only criticize [Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government, saying that instead of maintaining good relations with the other nations of the world, it has chosen the path of hostility and making enemies, even vis-à-vis countries that were willing to maintain mutually respectful relations with us. The authors refrained from explicitly criticizing Iran's nuclear policy because the peaceful oppositionists in Iran are not in a position to do so, and therefore prefer to address this issue in oblique and ambiguous terms.

"This manner of addressing serious issues is not characteristic only of the authors of the open letter. All the peaceful oppositionist elements in Iran, regardless of their political and religious views, are cautious in their public statements about Iran's nuclear program.

"As a matter of fact, most groups and forces who criticize and oppose the regime support [the view] that, based on the NPT, all countries, including Iran, have the right to enrich uranium; however, they are sensitive to the price that the country has to pay for pursuing this option. In other words, very few oppositionist figures in Iran support the Islamic Republic's desire to attain nuclear fuel cycle [capabilities] at the price of economic sanctions or military attack, especially since Iran is considered to be one of the poorest countries that have raw uranium resources - though this fact that is not often mentioned in Iran.

"The critics refrain from expressing their views on Iran's nuclear policy in a clear manner since there are no extensive media [channels] in Iran that would enable them to explain and justify their views to the people. The minute they talk about Iran's need to display flexibility regarding this issue, the extensive media channels that are exclusively controlled by the government will accuse them of denying 'Iran's right' as an independent state, and of taking a stance which runs counter to Iran's 'national interests and security.'

"The act of spreading accusations like these - especially when the accused have no possibility of defending themselves - tends to influence the masses, whose only source of information is the official apparatuses. This undermines the status and position of the accused, who generally wish to present themselves as 'patriotic.' Thus, those who criticize the policies of the Iranian regime either refrain altogether from criticizing the regime's nuclear policy, or else criticize it in a vague and implied manner. This enables the Iranian regime to present all political factions - including those which criticize it and oppose it inside Iran - as supporting [the effort] to attain nuclear fuel cycle [capabilities] at any price - and some of the international analysts repeat this view." [4]


[1] During 2000-2002, legal proceedings were conducted against Zeidabadi for "inciting dissent and spreading malicious lies against the Islamic Republic" (IRNA, February 11, 2001). In 2003, he was sentenced to several years in prison and also to five years of "deprivation of social rights" (Payvand Iran News, April 13, 2003, http://www.payvand.com/news/03/apr/1054.html ).

[2] http://roozonline.com/11english/014211.shtml .Rooz is posted from outside Iran, and is available online only.

[3] Karoubi was a presidential candidate in the 2005 election. After losing in the first round, he dared to charge that the elections were rigged to arrange for his defeat. In protest against Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei's demand that he keep silent, he resigned from his posts; recently he has formed a new opposition party and launched a new daily newspaper.

[4] http://roozonline.com/02article/014136.shtml.