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September 28, 2006 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 295

Pressure Increases on Iran's Reformist Camp

September 28, 2006 | By Yossi Mansharof
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 295

Over the last four years, the Iranian authorities have ordered the closure of more than 100 newspapers associated with the reformist camp. This pressure has peaked again in recent weeks with the issuing of an order of closure against the daily Sharq, considered to be the most prominent of the reformist papers remaining in Iran. Sharq was shut down for publishing, on September 7, 2006, the cartoon shown below:


The cartoon shows Iran's and the West's moves on the nuclear issue. The white horse represents the West while the braying black donkey with the halo is a satirical depiction of Iran. The halo is a reference to the remark made by Ahmadinejad following his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2005; Ahmadinejad claimed that, during his speech, he felt that he was surrounded by a circle of divine light symbolizing the messianic nature of his message to the world.

In addition to Sharq, the Iranian authorities also recently ordered the closure of the reformist monthly Nameh for publishing a poem which, according to the regime, mocked and insulted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Revolution regime in Iran.

In August, 2006, Isa Saharkhiz, editor of the intellectual reformist monthly Aftab and the economic magazine Akhbar-e Eqtesadi, was sentenced to four years in prison. He was also barred from practicing journalism for five years, and the newspapers he edited were closed after he expressed harsh criticism of the one-man rule of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.[1]

On September 15, 2006, there was an attack on the offices of the reformist daily Etemad-e Melli, the paper headed by the former head of parliament Mehdi Karroubi.[2] The Aftab News Agency reported that "in recent months, several members of the paper's board of editors and reporters have been threatened. In some cases the attackers were armed with cold steel..."[3]

*The Connection Between Sharq's Closure and the Assembly of Experts Elections

Sharq had openly supported the head of the Expediency Council Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – currently considered the second most senior figure in the Iranian leadership – and openly supported his candidacy in the 2005 presidential elections.[4] For this reason, it appears that, from a political perspective, shutting down Sharq was an attempt to weaken Rafsanjani in the run-up to the upcoming elections for the Assembly of Experts. These elections are scheduled for mid-December 2006, against the backdrop of the growing rivalry between Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi, who is consider to be the influential religious mentor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and of most of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and security apparatuses.[5]

Mohsen Aramin, spokesman for the reformist movement Mojahedin-e Enqelab-e Eslami, and formerly a prominent member of the reformist 6th Majlis, said: "Sharq is known to be close to Rafsanjani, and thus its closure, in light of the possibility that Rafsanjani might run in the elections to the Assembly of Experts, is apparently related to these elections. The continued attacks on [Rafsanjani's] character over the last few months are meant to dissuade him from participating in the elections... The closure of Sharq ...strengthens the assumption that the move by the Commission for the Supervision of the Press was politically motivated."[6]

Rafsanjani himself said, at a conference held by the Association of Non-governmental Newspaper Editors: "With the [ever-widening] distribution of the media and the explosion of information in the global village, it is almost impossible to prevent the circulation of news and reports... In any case, extremism [within the government apparatuses] has always existed, and an effort must be made to control it so that this climate will not spread to the entire society... De-legitimization and accusations [by certain groups in the regime], especially during elections, are a bad tradition which injects society with the virus of distrust and despair..."[7] Two days later, Rafsanjani criticized the attempt to silence the criticism in connection with the closure of Sharq, saying, "...Restricting [the political arena] to one group or party is a very dangerous thing."[8]

*Journalist Isa Saharkhiz: "[The Authorities] Want to Convey to Mr. Hashemi [Rafsanjani] That If He Wishes to Participate... in the Elections for the Assembly of Experts, He Must Pay"

 

Journalist Isa Saharkhiz continued his attacks on Khamenei and said in response to the closing of Sharq that "the topics discussed by Sharq in the recent month touched a nerve with various figures, among them, I believe, Mr. Khamenei. The conference marking the 100th anniversary of the Constitutional Revolution [1906-1911][9] and its wide attendance by the public, as well as the celebrations marking Sharq's third anniversary, which reflected the paper's popularity, filled [the authorities] with fear that we may witness another popular uprising... [The authorities] believe that it is the press which instigates these uprisings... They want to convey to Mr. Hashemi [Rafsanjani] that if he wishes to participate as a candidate in the elections for the Assembly of Experts, he must pay an additional price, and [the closure of Sharq] is the first price [that he must pay] in this context."[10]

Responses to Sharq's Closure in the Iranian Media

*General Yadollah Javani: "In Light of Sharq's Numerous Violations... We Can [Only] Wonder [Why] the Commission [for the Supervision of the Press]... Did Not... Close the Paper [Sooner]"

Conversely, General Yadollah Javani, head of the Revolutionary Guards Political Bureau,[11] denied any connection between Sharq's closure and the upcoming elections to the Assembly of Experts. In an article he published in the daily Sobh-e Sadeq, the mouthpiece of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei within the Revolutionary Guards, he enumerated various violations by Sharq that had been cited by the Commission for the Supervision of the Press. He mentioned in particular Sharq's publication of articles about the spreading phenomenon of premarital sex; encouraging alcohol consumption; dissemination of Marxist ideas; disparaging religious laws; publishing pictures violating Muslim dignity; publishing provocative articles on ethnic issues; and publishing the insulting cartoon (above).

Javani wrote: "...When we consider the arguments brought by the Commission for the Supervision of the Press... vis-à-vis the arguments brought by the parties and figures that support the paper... we can clearly determine whether the paper should be closed down. Those opposed [to the closure of the paper] brought general arguments, and conjectured that this is a political-sectoral affair with specific goals related to the Assembly of Experts elections. The Commission for the Supervision [of the Press], on the other hand, cited the [paper's] history since 2003, [including] the last warning issued [to the paper] in the time of the eighth government [i.e. Khatami's government], as well as the numerous violations of the past few months. Correspondingly, the [Commission] regarded the closure of the paper as a move [that it had the authority to take] in order to carry out its duty as a supervising body.

"According to Article 24 of the [Iranian] constitution, journals and papers have freedom of expression, as long as [they do not publish materials] that violate the foundations of Islam or the rights of the public... According to Article 12 of the Press Law, if any paper violates [these principles], the Commission for the Supervision of the Press may act to close it down as part of its duty as a supervising body... Therefore, in light of Sharq's numerous violations, and in light of the repeated warnings [it had received], we can [only] wonder at the behavior of the Commission [for the Supervision of the Press], [and at the fact] that it did not perform its legal duty and close down the paper [sooner]. Though closing down the paper and rendering some journalists unemployed is not a commendable act, failure to enforce the law is an even less commendable act that has irreversible consequences."[12]

*Dissident Iranian Journalist Zeidabadi: "Indeed, We are Faced With a Group That Expects Everything to [Work] Exclusively in Its Service, and Knows No Limits or Prohibitions..."

In response to the closure of Sharq, dissident Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi wrote an article in which he had criticized the Iranian regime for its "deceit and hypocrisy."[13] Following are excerpts from his article in the reformist internet journal Rooz:

 

 

"I do not know why, [but] out of all the papers butchered until now, I find the butchering of [the daily] Sharq exceptionally saddening. Maybe [I feel this way] because the closure of a Sharq is a terrible sign for the future, and this for two reasons. Firstly, [it is ominous that], in spite of all the restrictions and despite the fact that it toed the line, [the regime] showed no tolerance towards [Sharq]. If [Sharq] is not treated with tolerance, what [paper] will be? Secondly, [it is troubling that even] when a paper does not opt for struggle and obstinacy but [shows] moderation and understanding towards the authorities in order to survive, it still perishes – what option is [still] left [open] to thinking and civilized people?"

 

"Indeed, we are faced with a group that expects everything to [work] exclusively in its service, and knows no limits or prohibitions... Throughout the period of its existence, Sharq meticulously observed all the declared and undeclared restrictions of the regime. Precisely for this reason many critics of the regime accused it of having ties with the men of power and were merciless towards it. [But] despite all this, [the authorities] showed no tolerance and killed this three-year-old [i.e. Sharq] which was so docile and toed the line...

"In a country which reserves all the government and semi-government jobs for people affiliated with the regime, and which prevents all independent private firms from thriving, to whom can people turn in search of a job?

*"We Do Not Even Expect an Answer From These Oppressors and Swindlers Who [Constantly] Brandish Slogans of Justice"

"Can there be greater deceit and hypocrisy that that of this group which purports to be concerned about employment, yet takes away the livelihood of hundreds of families who have no [particular] political orientation and who, moreover, are not affiliated with the regime?

"...We do not even expect an answer from these oppressors and swindlers who [constantly] brandish slogans of justice. I believe that the Creator made the world in such a way that the intoxication of power and wealth cannot last long. Woe to those drunk [with power and wealth] who pretend that they do not realize that the day [of judgment] will come."[xiv]

*Y. Mansharof is a MEMRI Iranian Studies Department Research Fellow.

 

[1] Farda News Agency (Iran), August 28, 2006, www.fardanews.com/show/?id=23985

[2] Mehdi Karroubi is considered one of the leaders of the reformist camp in Iran. Following his defeat in the first round of the 2005 presidential elections, he claimed that the elections were corrupt and resigned from all of the posts he held in the regime as Ali Khamenei's representative in the various councils – despite Khamenei's request that he remain. As an act of protest, Karroubi founded the opposition party Etemad-e Melli as well as a newspaper of the same name.

[3] Aftab News Agency (Iran), September 16, 2006.

[4] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 253, "The ‘Second Islamic Revolution’ in Iran: Power Struggle at the Top," November 17, 2006, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA27806

[5] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 278, "Power Struggle in Iran – Part II: Elections for the Assembly of Experts," June 1, 2006, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA27806

[6] Rooz, September 13, 2006.

[7] Mehr New Agency (Iran), September 13, 2006,

www.mehrnews.com/fa/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=379838

[8] Jomhouri-ye Eslami (Iran), September 17, 2006.

[9] In the Constitutional Revolution, Iranian intellectuals, with the support of a number of Shiite clerics, demanded the adoption of a constitution in Iran that would limit the powers of the Shah.

[10] Rooz, September 13, 2006.

[11] For previous statements by Yadollah Javani, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 743, "Iran Threatens the West," July 13, 2004, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP74304

MEMRI I&A No. 189, "Iran's Nuclear Policy Crisis," September 21, 2004,

http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA18904

[12] Sobh-e Sadeq, September 19, 2006.

[13] Zeidabadi was sentenced to five years' "denial of social rights", during which he was forbidden to write in the Iranian press. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1127, "Iranian Reformist Website: The Regime is Trying to Silence Internal Dissent Regarding Iran's Nuclear Program," March 30, 2006,

http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=countries&Area=iran&ID=SP112706#_ednref2

[xiv] Rooz, September 9, 2006.

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