TO KILL PRESS FREEDOM, MAJLES APPROVES UNPOPULAR BILL

PARIS 18TH Apr. (IPS) Weeks only before joining the bin of history, the Iranian conservatives-dominatedMajles (parliament) approved Tuesday a controversial bill aimed at curtailing to the maximum the already quite limited freedom of the press.

The bill triggered outcry from not only independent journalists, but also the Government of President Mohammad Khatami, with Mr. Ata'ollah Mohajerani openly regretting the decision, stressing that it contradicts the Constitution.

According to the new law, all articles written against the Constitution, the security of the State, Islam, the regime are punishable. Not only the publisher and the editor are held responsible for incriminated articles, but also the journalist who, more over, is required to name and identify his sources.

Holders of newspaper titles who do not use them are forbidden from passing, selling or hiring it to others, as it was the practice until now, where publishers of banned newspapers could immediately "rent" unexploited licenses or loss-making titles.

Counter-revolutionaries, their sympathisers, members of illegal political parties or organisations, those convicted at Islamic revolution courts, those arrested for activities against the security of the State or against the Islamic Republic and the leader are barred from any press activity on any pretext and those who employ such persons are liable to imprisonment and fines.

Spreading false rumours, unfounded articles, defamatory stories, articles against the foundations of the regime would be considered as anti-Islamic and carry imprisonment.

Not only a publication that is banned should be no more distributed, but all those who continue to print or distribute it would be dealt with the law.

Iranian publishers and editors are banned from direct or indirect financial contribution of other publishers or foreign persons or organisations. Publications must be published with local money and authorisation must be issued after examination by the Islamic Guidane Ministry as well as by the Judiciary and the Intelligence Ministry.

Persons who ask for permission must be Muslim, dedicated to Iranian Sh'ia Islam, respectful of the Constitution and the principle of Velayat.

Furthermore, the press jury would consist of 7 people representing the Judiciary, the publishers, the Guidance Ministry, the University, the Qom Teaching Centre, the Majles and the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution.

"As it is, this law would kill all freedoms in Iran where there are no political parties. Once applied, the situation of the Iranian press would be worse than in any dictatorship", observed Mr. Ahmad Zeydabadi, a journalist in Tehran.

Analysts pointed out that the new law is deliberately full of vague and general notions with very broad interpretation, such as "anti-state", "anti-Constitution", "spreading rumours or unfounded items", "counter-revolutionaries and members of illegal organisations" etc allowing the judges to harness as much as possible the press.

"This is a press coup operated by the present outgoing Majles in order to muzzle the press. The new law hangs as a guillotine over the head of the outsiders (reformists and moderates). In one word and without going into details, this law is contrary to the Constitution", noted Mr. Reza Alijani of the Iran e Farda bi-weekly. PRESS BILL 18400