Paris, 13 Sept. (IPS) In one of its latest and most dramatic act of pressure against Iranian independent media, the authorities in the Islamic Republic closed down the country’s most influential and popular newspaper “Sharq” (Orient) on Monday.
The order was issued by the Government-controlled Press Supervisory Board, charging the pro-reform, mass circulation daily with a string of accusations, including “publication of blasphematory articles not in line with Islam, propagation of articles harmful to the Islamic Republic, prostitution, printing of pictures and photographs against public order, creating division among population by debates about ethnic and racial issues etc..”.
The donkey, an animal that in Iranian culture symbolises ignorance, naivety, stubbornness and craziness.
However, most Iranian political analysts, including some of the journalists at the paper said the most important thing that the Government did not like was a cartoon printed last week showing a chess board where a horse and a donkey, with a halo of light around its head are debating the regime’s handling of nuclear issue with the West.
Though cartoonists say the halo is not a halo, but an effect to separate the animals heads, it seems that the censors at the Iranian judiciary have made a rapprochement between the donkey of the cartoon with President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad’s talks last year to a senior cleric telling him when he was addressing the (last) United Nations General Assembly in New York and telling the audience about Mehdi, the Shi’ates hidden imam, suddenly a light descended on the vast room.
[The donkey, an animal that in Iranian culture symbolises ignorance, naivety, stubbornness and craziness, has its mouth open and light around him, while the horse shows no emotion].
“The closure of Sharq has no legal ground and on behalf of the Iranian Professional Journalists Association, we say that the Government of Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad has no regard for laws and acts on personal motivations in closing Sharq and (the monthly) Nameh (Letter)”, said Mr. Masha’allah Shamsolva’ezin, the Association’s spokesman and a veteran journalist.
“We are in a vicious circle, for, as a result of these pressures, closures and crackdowns, more Iranian intellectuals, journalists, scholars and others take refuge with outside-based media to express themselves and are immediately accused of collaboration with foreign media and arrested”, he told the 24 hours, Farsi-language Radio Farda, the Persian offshoot of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, based in Prague.
The closure of Sharq did not came as a surprise, as, in the one hand, the Government had urged the Judiciary not tolerate any criticism of the Ahmadi Nezhad Administration by the press and on the other, the paper had been under growing pressure by the Press Supervisory Board to change its managing director, Mr. Mehdi Rahmanian, a call that Mr. Shamsolva’ezin said was “almost unprecedented”.
State-run television said Sharq was shut because it failed to appoint a new managing director to "more aggressively supervise material published in the paper."
Mr. Rahmanian, denounced such a demand, saying "Pressure on the press to change their managing director is illegal. The law doesn't allow the board to make such a demand” he said.
“What is surprising is that Sharq had not been closed before, considering the man who is in charge of the press and publications”, one outside based journalist observed, referring to Mr. Saffa Harandi, a former deputy Editor of the hard line newspaper Keyhan, appointed by Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad as Minister for Islamic Culture and Guidance.
The paper, a mouthpiece of Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the megalomanica, egocentric leader of the Islamic Republic, who appointed Mr. Hoseyn Shari’atmadari, a security officer specializing in interrogating political dissidents and intellectuals as its Editor, is considered as politically the most vicious, repulsive, cynic, dangerous newspapers in the world, not hesitating publish completely fabricated articles to kill dissidents, particularly those not in line with Mr. Khameneh’i.
An example is the series of front page articles published on 12 September “proving” that the 11 September 2001 crushing of airplanes in the World Trade Centre twin towers was hatched at the White House.
“What Mr. Khameneh’i like, and Mr. Saffar Harrandi is executing, is having the Iranian media tailored after Keyhan”. The incriminated cartoon was a pretext to invade the last barricade of the reformists in Iran”, the journalist, himself one of he victims of Keyhan, pointed out.
Iran's official news agency reported the paper was ordered closed down for "dozens of violations," including the cartoon's publication and "publication of material against the rulings by the Supreme National Security Council." The council handles Iran's nuclear negotiations with the West.
But informed sources told Iran Press Service that Sharq was closed after the Judiciary got the confirmation from Mr. Khameneh’i.
What is surprising is that Sharq had not been closed before.
“Considering the immense popularity and the influence of the paper, its closure was not an easy decision to take, for, no doubt, it badly harms the image of a President who portrays his Government of the Administration of compassion, love, Justice and tolerance beyond repair”, they commented, reminding that Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad has purged dozens of journalists, university professors and government officials seen as supporting reforms.
“I think one of the reasons the authorities decided to shut Sharq is that interior and exterior conditions are placing the government in a corner. In response to growing domestic and outside pressures, the Government see no other escape than closing political and social atmospheres at home, allowing no debate, tolerating no criticism”, Mr. Isa Saharkhiz, a nationalist-religious journalist and a former director of the Guidance Ministry under the first presidency of Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told the internet newspaper “Rooz” (Day), edited in London and Paris.
"In recent months, nuclear officials have been warning the press to be careful over what they publish over Iran's nuclear policy and not write anything that contradicts what they do", reformist lawmaker Esma’il Gerami Moqadam told the Associated Press.
“From the letter wrote by Mr. Qolamhoseyn Elham (the Government’s official spokesman) to Mr. Sa’id Mortazavi (Tehran’s Public Prosecutor and the Head of the Capital’s Islamic Revolution tribunal) to crackdown on the media critical of the actions of the Government, it was visible that one goes towards a severe repression against the independent press”, Mr. Saharkhiz said, adding that in his view, one should expect more crackdown and pressures over the reformist media.
“The Government’s political and economic plans have all failed and the international atmosphere is also against the present administration. The best solution in the view of the officials is to restrict as much as possible the limited space for debating major issues like the controversial nuclear problem. At the beginning, they (government) started with telling the papers what not to write about and ended by telling them what to write, as seen by the latest decision of the Supreme Council on National Security telling the papers not to quote any source except some Iranian news agencies all close or sponsored or controlled by the Government”, he observed.
Sharq’s growing popularity and some recent events the paper organized, like celebrating one hundred years of Iran’s first Constitution, the celebration of the paper’s third year in existence, some of its very popular editorials and comments by mostly reformist personalities, commentators, scholars, diplomats etc all were subjects not liked by Mr. Khameneh’I and his sycophants like Ahmadi Nezhad.
Mr. Mohammad Qouchani, a young and talented journalist who was taken as the paper’s Editor masterly brought in a number of what was left of professional newsmen and reporters. “Sharq has come to remain” he promised in his first editorial and in order to remain under the suffocating atmosphere, he walked carefully, avoiding sensitive issues to the point to be tagged by opponents and friends alike as being too conservative or close to some influential clerical circles.
“The closure of Sharq is frightening on two accounts, one because if they (authorities) can not tolerate a paper that was very careful and moderate, then what is that they can tolerate and on the second account, if this is the way they treat a newspaper that has adopted the principle of tolerance and accommodation instead of antagonism and confrontation, then what way remains for the intelligentsia community”, asked Mr. Ahmad Zeydabadi, another reformist journalist.
The Press Supervisory Board also ordered the political monthly “Nameh”, or Letter and “Yase No”, to be closed down, IRNA reported Monday.
The paper's editor, Majid Tavalla’i, said the reason behind the closure was the publication of a poem from Ms. Simin Behbahani, a national poet about war
"Publication of the poem is seen as the main reason for the closure. They have taken that as an insult (to victims of Iran-Iraq War)", Mr. Tavalla’i said.
Both Ahmadi Nezhad and Ayatollah Khameneh’i appear on a list of "press freedom predators"
A Yas-e No employee said the papers were padlocked by prosecutors later on Wednesday, and the sign on the building where the paper operates from was torn down.
Echoing the rhetoric of the nation's 1979 Islamic revolution, Ahmadi Nezhad, a fanatic Shi’a Muslim, appears determined to remake Iran by reviving the fundamentalist goals pursued under the republic's late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Upon taking office last year, the hard line, anti-Western, anti-Israeli president replaced nearly all his country's governors and lower provincial officials, as well as 40 ambassadors. Many of Iran's top government officials are now either former commanders of the elite Revolutionary Guards or former hard-line security officials.
Last week, he urged students to push for a purge of liberal, secular university teachers, and dozens of such instructors have been sent into early retirement during Ahmadi Nezhad's rule.
Both Ahmadi Nezhad and Ayatollah Khameneh’i appear on a list of "press freedom predators" compiled by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders each year.
On orders from the leader, the Judiciary shut down more than 200 newspapers, weeklies and other periodicals between 1999 and 2001, most of them pro reform or independent. ENDS SHARQ CLOSED 13906
Feel free to participate in our discussion and vote in our poll:
Do you condemn the closure of the Sharq newspaper ?