Iran Press Service


The new Iranian reformists-dominated Majles (parliament) in a move that was largely expected but yet it surprised, passed Sunday an urgent motion to remove a controversial Press Law that was hastily approved by the last Legislative curbing drastically the already limited freedom of the press.

At the same time, 155 reformist deputies out of 260 MPs who's credentials has been approved, in an open letter to the Islamic Judiciary Chief, the Iraqi-born Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, expressed their concern at the shutting down of 18 publications "representing a global circulation of more than one million copies" and the imprisonment of several prominent journalists, urging him to "end this intolerable situation".

"The decision by reformist fraction of the Majles to review the much hated Press Law is in response to expectations from the public, mostly the young and the students and the approval of its urgency is a prove that the new deputies are determined to go ahead with their promises to open up the political climate", one journalist in Tehran told Iran Press Service on condition of anonymity.

The Press Law that was amended by the Fifth Majles that was controlled by the conservatives had imposed stringent curbs on the press, forbidding journalist to write against senior officials, mainly clerics, criticise Islam, the regime, the revolution, the leader, force them to disclose their sources and make responsible both journalists and editors etc.

It was on basis of this new Law and on order from Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the lame leader of the regime that the Judiciary shut down 17 titles, some of them among the nation's most popular and influential.

In the whole history of the Iranian press, this was the first time that so many publications were closed at once and together.

The motion was passed on hours after new deputies were received by the leader and some newspapers, including the mass-circulation "Hamshahri" had announced that due to divergences between MPs belonging to the Second Khordad Coalition Front (SKCF) that supports President Mohammad Khatami, the bill would be presented latter.

Leader of the Islamic Iran participation Party (IIPP), the largest reformist fraction in the Majles had pointed out that by presenting the motion with first degree urgency, the MPs were aiming at not only scraping the widely unpopular Press Law but also reforming both the composition of the Press supervisory board and the Press Jury, both of then under the control of the conservatives.

The motion was immediately opposed by the conservative minority, warning that the bill would not please the leader, but reformists such as Ahmad Bourqani of Tehran said the "closing of each title was like closing a school, or a ministry".

He said those who think by curbing the press and jailing journalists one can preserve tranquillity are absolutely wrong for the present calm is the result of the victory of the reformists in the (parliamentary) elections.

Knowing well that they owe their landslide victory in the Legislative elections to the independent press, reformists legislators are out to rush to the help of jailed journalists and bring the Judiciary to review it's decision by removing the ban order.

The conservatives, taking cue from the leader, say the new Majles must give priority to economic situation, fight inflation, unemployment and curb the daily price rise in the people's basic necessities.

The conservative daily "Resalat" that speaks for the Bazaar oligarchy said in an article criticised the motion, saying that the anti-Press Law motion would give more room for anti-revolutionary elements to achieve their goals through an unrestricted press".

Reformists answer is that one can not improve the economic situation without making necessary political reforms that starts with the freedom of press and expression.

In their letter to Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, the MPs called for urgent action to "correct" a decision handed down in the past month suspending several dailies and incarcerating a number of journalists.

"We know and you know that the arrests made last month and the closing of newspapers have no legal nor logical grounds, that they were both unnecessary and unexplainable. It is therefore your duty to correct this sad, shameful situation, particularly the humiliating condition of the prisoners", the signatories observed, in an clear reference to the arrest of several prominent reformists, secularists and dissident scholars, journalists, lawyers, student leaders and clerics who participated at a conference held early April in Berlin, organised by the independent but pro-green Heinrisch Boll Institute.

The letter was ignored by the public media that is under the direct control of Ayatollah Khameneh'i.

"The least right of any prisoner is to be treated according to laws. When the Judiciary that must guarantee the respect of laws acts unlawfully, it is therefore natural that people pay no respect to laws nor to the Judiciary", the MPs added, calling on Mr. Shahroudi to "correct the mistakes, order the release of the innocent prisoners and the banned newspapers to reappear.

But the Chief Justice rebuked, said orders and wishes of the leader was above all laws, even the Constitution. "When the beloved leader describes these newspapers as nests of the enemy, their closure become a necessity", Mr. Hashemi-Shahroudi argued. ENDS PRESS LAW 18600


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Iran Press Service
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