A Middle East Watch Report
Human Rights Watch
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Mechanisms of Control 5
Scope of Controls 7
Legal Framework 11
Chapter 1: Legal Framework 21
Constitution of the Islamic
Republic of Iran-23
The Islamic Revolutionary Courts-26
Regulations Governing Book Publication-27
Regulations Governing Film
Chapter 2: The Press-33
Political Affiliation of National
Harassment of the Press-39
Prosecution of Cartoonist Manouchehr
Chapter 3: Selective Application of the
Press Law 50
Prosecution of Nasser Arabba, Farad-50
Prosecution of Abbas Maroufi, Gardoon-51
Chapter 4: Foreign Media and Journalists-55
Public Access to International News-61
A Banned Journalist, Kaveh Golestan-62
Chapter 5: State-Controlled Radio and
Partial List of Clandestine Radio
Broadcasts to Iran-68
Chapter 6: Book Publishing 70
The Scope of Censorshi-71
The Censorship Process-73
Publishers and Censorship-76
Profiles of Banned Writers-78
Chapter 7: The Fatwa Against Salman
Rushdie and its Extension to Iranians 85
Declaration of Iranians in Exile Condemning
The Censorship Process-98
International Film Festivals and Censored
Two Banned Film Directors-104
Chapter 9: Banned Political Expression
Reprisals Against Publications-111
Political Dissidents Punished-114
Chapter 10: Restricted Academic Freedom
Vigilance and Reprisals-119
Restrictions for Women-120
Chapter 11: Denial and Distortion of
Cultural Heritage 122
Appendix A: Declaration of Iranian
Artists Condemning the Fatwa and
of March 1993 130
Appendix B: University Entrance
Case of Maryam, Concours Examination
of 1981 136
Case of Sarah, Concours Examination
of 1982 138
Case of Leila, Concours Examinations
of 1983 and of 1984 139
The information presented in this report is
based on interviews conducted between January and July 1993 by Middle East
Watch staff and persons familiar with the events discussed. Out of concern for
their well-being, as reprisals against those who criticize the Islamic Republic
are commonplace, the names of many interviewees are not disclosed.
We wish to extend our gratitude to all the
persons whose cooperation and information made this report possible.
This report was written by Sarvenaz Bahar, an
attorney and Sophie Silberberg Fellow with Human Rights Watch. It was edited by
Human Rights Watch consultant, Cynthia Brown. Andrew Whitley, executive
director of Middle East Watch, and Gara LaMarche, executive director of the Fun
for Free Expression, offered suggestions on the text.
Linda Long, associate of Human Rights Watch,
prepared this manuscript for publication.
We are grateful for the two drawings
portrayed in this report, gifts from Iranian cartoonist and illustrator
Now look at the number of newspapers and
magazines that are currently being published in Iran.
What country has so many newspapers and magazines? And they write whatever they
--Supreme Religious Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
We are not apposed to the cinema, to radio,
or to television; what we appose is vice and the use of media to keep our young
people in a state of backwardness and dissipate their energies.
--Late Supreme Religious Leader
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
The apparent intensity of public debate,
variety of publications and the wealth of artistic achievements in the Islamic
Republic of Iran create an illusion of unrestricted discourse. But the limits
of expression are defined in complex and often arbitrary ways by a government
beset by internal power struggles and intolerance. The artistic and
intellectual community's resistance to stare-imposed censorship has produced
some relaxation of control since the early 1980s. But the parameters of what is
permitted rend to shift quickly, in response to pressures within the ruling
movement. It is never clear whether what can be said, written or filmed today
will be cause for financial ruin, arrest or other punishment tomorrow.
The large-scale purges of academics and
killings of dissidents, including writers, journalists and artists, that
characterized the years following the 1979 revolution have not continued.
Public debate has become somewhat more free and publications somewhat more
various in recent years. Many of the government's domestic and foreign policies
are criticized in newspapers, although only by fellow partisans of the ruling
movement. In some arenas, notably film, artistic achievement in the past decade
has been astounding.
Despite these improvements, however, the
limits of discourse are strictly defined, and the range of speakers in limited
to the various factions of the ruling elite. There are no independent
newspapers. Books and films are issued a release permit only after passing a
rigorous process of political vetting. The moral character of magazine editors
must be approved by the government, and every issue of a magazine must be
submitted to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance after publication.
Magazines are generally precluded from covering political issues and offering
overt social criticism. In the case of "undesirable" stories, the
magazine risks official closure, and its staff can face imprisonment and
prosecution. Journalists are generally considered a suspect group and have the
minimum of job security. They are restricted by forbidden realms of news --
until such time as that news filters in through foreign broadcasts and
publications. Artists and intellectuals run the risks of personal ruin,
censorship or banning, and detention.
Laws are applied selectively and
inconsistently, and there is uncertainty as to the governing norms. Hard-sought
government permits provide no guarantee for the continued existence and
distribution of the work approved or the protection of the artist or
intellectual involved. The criticism of influential pressure groups can become
an extrajudicial "public prosecution" of the artist or intellectual;
on the other hand, legal prosecution is often conducted in disregard of the
legal provisions and guarantees of domestic law. The accused are indicted under
broad and all-encompassing charges such as "moral corruption," "anti-revolutionary
behavior" and "siding with global arrogance."
The ineffectiveness of the legal system is
combined with an element of anarchy, which directly threatens the artistic and
intellectual community. Gangs of motorcycle riders or other vigilantes trash
magazine offices and publishing houses and threaten lives as self-proclaimed
enforcers of the law, in the name of protecting Islamic values. This they do
with the evident tolerance of the authorities, without fear of prosecution.
Vilification campaigns orchestrated by the state-affiliated press commonly
assign intellectuals and artists such labels as submissive servant of
imperialism, activist of Communism, panegyrist of the Pahlavi regime and agent
of SAVAK, the deposed Shah's secret police.
The ebbs and flows of control and censorship,
however, reflect interfactional conflicts. Forms of expression in Iran,
whether book, film or a woman's head cover, are invested with political
significance; they may signal a loosening of control and increased tolerance of
diverse views and values, or the converse. In striking at an author or film
director, political factions aim at each other in their perpetual struggle for
political power. Film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, in a letter to the
state-affiliated press regarding its "public prosecution" of him and
his work stated:
The writer of these columns knows well that
these arguments have nothing to do with him. The fight is over nothing other
than the struggles between the different factions who seek power."
Subsequent to the "public
prosecution" his work was banned.
In this report, which covers primarily the
period 1989-1993, Middle east Watch examines the various mechanisms of state
control of expression and presents more than sixty individual cases (and one
group case involving 162 persons) of Iranian writers, filmmakers, journalists
and intellectuals who have been imprisoned, prosecuted or otherwise punished
for the content of their work or whose work has been banned and censored. The
breadth of censorship goes well beyond the cases examined here; these only
serve to illustrate tactics of direct and often violent pressure by vigilante
groups, of vilification campaigns, of formal censorship, and of the power play
between different pressure groups within the ruling elite. The report's focus
in on artistic and journalistic expression, but we also include material on
some well-known cases of suppressed political expression, Also included are
general assessments of the academic environment and Iranian cultural heritage.
Our analysis of mechanisms of state control
includes nominally non-governmental pressure groups and entities, such as
foundations and newspapers. Power struggles within Iran's
ruling elite and the lack of centralized authority mean that elements as
diverse as semi-autonomous foundations led by influential clergy
and state-affiliated newspapers aligned with different political factions
play a pivotal role in defining how journalists, writers and artists may
express themselves on issues of personal and political importance. The
government's role in institutionalizing control and censorship ranges from the
deliberate unleashing of the more uncompromising pressure groups to taking
shelter behind a real or purported inability to counter their force and will.
The Iranians whose cases are described in
this report have little organized support in their home country, yet most of
them continue to speak out. The relaxation of censorship during Minister of
Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Khatami's tenure (1989-1992) was largely
their doing, the product of their persistent and often lonely protests. Since
Khatami's resignation, however, even those small gains are newly endangered.
The marks of his more conservative successor, Ali Larijani, a former deputy
minister of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and close ally of Supreme
Religious Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, are already apparent in the workings of
the Ministry and, more generally, an atmosphere of renewed restriction to which
numerous sources for this report attested. Two signs of this shift are the
cancellation of invitations issued to the organizers of Western international
film festivals to attend the Iranian Fajr Film Festival in February 1993, and
increasingly frequent, unchecked vigilante attacks against the press and
publishing houses in the past year. Another is the recent, severe crackdown on
"vice and social corruption" in Tehran,
which has included the arrests of more than 500 women in late June and ongoing
arrests through July. The women were arrested for violations of the dress code
such as wearing sunglasses; 300 men were also held for wearing short-sleeved
MECHANISMS OF CONTROL
Limits on freedom of expression in Iran
defy simple definition. It is not possible to trace censorship to any single
source within the government structure. Rather, there often exists no
regulation relevant to the "offense" at hand, and in a given case the
Anti-Narcotics Section of the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor, the Ministry of
Intelligence, a state-affiliated newspaper or a semi-autonomous foundation has
a much de facto power to monitor expression as the government's designated
official for this function, the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
In certain cases, censorship is accomplished
by official banning orders, or through imprisonment and mistreatment of
offenders. In most cases, the means of control are more subtle and indirect.
The government exercises control "unofficially" through binding no
official paper trail. Other forms of government control include distribution of
paper for books and newspapers, and setting prices for books and admission to
films. The financial loss associated with books banned after publication and
films banned after production also serves as an effective tool of government
To implement its censorship policies, the
government relies on a variety of nongovernmental players. A common means of
control and censorship are unchecked vigilante attacks against the press and
publishing houses. In the 1992-1993 period alone, there have been ate least
nine such attacks in Tehran. At any
time, any piece of work may become the object of attacks orchestrated primarily
through the mass media for being anti-Islamic and anti-revolutionary,
regardless of whether the work has been previously approved by the government
and issued a permit. Crowds of angry protestors or hezbollahi
may appear in the streets, vilifying the targeted individual, destroying and
looting property, deriding "lax" government policies and demanding
strict official retribution. These cords often gather at the invitation of the
state-affiliated media and generally act without meaningful police restraint or
fear of prosecution.
Some officials may object to the hezbollahis'
tactics, but blaming the victim is also common. In early June 1993, after sixty
motorcyclists attacked a magazine, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and
Islamic Guidance told the newspaper Salam, "We cannot stop them, but we
also do not approve of their attitude and behavior." On the other hand, he
said, "our publications should behave in a way not to offend the
sentiments of the hezbollahis."
Officials who take a stronger stance in defending expression are subject to
attack themselves. For a system that lays claim to embodiment of Islamic
principles, charges that one is anti-Islamic and anti-revolutionary carry great
power. Especially in a government as divided within itself as that of the
Islamic Republic of Iran, such charges serve as an effective way of putting
state officials on the defensive. Once a politically-created javv
signals a sufficient level of instability and outrage within the ruling elite,
the government responds by banning work, often previously approved, and
imprisoning and prosecuting the individuals responsible. The accusation of who
is more Islamic reverberates widely and strongly not only against the secular
but the determinedly devout.
As anarchic as the process may appear, there
is no evading censorship in Iran.
Any person can become the indirect agent of censorship, be it the book
publisher or the film producer who rejects or modifies work that may in any
fashion be controversial out of fear of unbearable financial sanctions imposed
by the government, and of prosecution. The artist or intellectual also is
caught in the grip of self-censorship, remembering colleagues who in the past
have lost their lives or liberty for their ideas, and facing everyday fear and
uncertainty. The role of self-censorship in Iran
cannot be underestimated. The hands of the government need descend on relatively
few to silence many others.
SCOPE OF CONTROLS
Expression that poses a serious threat to the
supremacy of the prevailing system -- by reaching large or crucial segments of
society or by propagating alternate systems of thought and governance -- is not
tolerated. On such matters, the government speaks with a single voice and
Freedom to organize political parties not
aligned with the government and the freedom of such parties to express
political views are strictly and uniformly prohibited, despite the
constitutional guarantee of free association. Political speech that is
genuinely independent or critical of the government is not tolerated. Offenders
are sentenced before the Islamic Revolutionary Courts to long prison terms.
There are also a large number of political executions in Iran.
The Constitution places radio and television
under the direct supervision of the religious leader and the three branches of
government. Radio and television in Iran,
a country that is forty-eight percent illiterate,
exclusively promote government policy, and the content of their programs is
Educational control is also considered
crucial to the government's consolidations of power. The faculty and curricula of
all teaching institutions were purged and "Islamicized" during the
revolution's first years to ensure the ideological purity of the information
available to young people. Universities, traditional centers of dissent under
the monarchy, were closed for two years and, upon their reopening, were
reserved for students ardently committed to the values of the revolution and
the Islamic government. While ideological and character screening has abated in
recent years, especially at the undergraduate level, it remains a persistent
feature of the Iranian educational system for graduate and post-graduate
studies. Since the reopening of the universities, approximately forty percent
of student admittance has been reserved for released prisoners of war, the
revolutionary guards, paramilitary volunteers (bassiji) and the relatives of
martyrs. These students serve as the "eyes and ears" of the
government authorities and report on those teachers and fellow students
suspected of harboring anti-Islamic or anti-regime sentiments.
Denial and distortion of the Iran's
pre-Islamic cultural heritage have also been strong components of the
government's agenda Celebration of the Iranian New Year, Nowruz, or the ancient
Zoroastrian ire festival" Chahar Shanbeh Soori was impeded by the
authorities for years. This has also meant that literary giants whose work is
not in line with the prevailing value system have been wither banned outright,
de-emphasized or reinterpreted. Significant public resistance has forced the
government to abandon much of its original agenda, yet certain of its elements
persist. Parents, for example, are denied a birth certificate it they plan to
give their newborn child a name that connotes Iran's
pre-Islamic or monarchical past.
The barriers of intolerance and control are
compounded in the case of women. Women artists and intellectuals, and the
depiction of women in art, are subject artists and intellectuals, and the
depiction of women in art, are subject to severe constraints arising from
tradition and superstition. While these impulses have strong social bases, the
government has manipulated these traditions wherever possible to tighten
controls and promote its preferred value system Post-revolutionary law bars
women from a number of fields in education and educated professions such as
engineering, and severely restricts their personal freedoms. For example, after
the 1934 mandatory unveiling imposed by Reza Shah, Iranian women must once
again endure the excesses of the state, this time the mandatory veiling imposed
since the revolution.
The scope of government control and
censorship, as is well known, has extended across continents and oceans by way
of a religious edict or fatwa. Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 death sentence against
novelist Salman Rushdie and all others associated with the publication of his
book The Satanic Verses has already led to the murder of the novel's Japanese
translator and the attempted murder of its Italian translator. Since the
issuance of the fatwa, Rushdie himself has been forced to lie in hiding.
Iranians in exile who have supported Rushdie's right to expression, by openly
condemning the death sentence against him. Have been threatened with death as
well, their work has been banned in Iran
and their publishers threatened with reprisals.
Vigilance attacks and vilification campaigns
in the state-affiliated press do not stop with criticism of the work deemed
offensive or even character assassination of the artist or intellectual but
extend as well to government officials, usually those within the Ministry of
Culture and Islamic Guidance and even occasionally the President, and call into
employees of the Ministry were prosecuted alongside writers and publishers
whose "anti-revolutionary" work they had approved.
The resignation of Mohammad Khatami, the
Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, in July 1992 was brought about by
such attacks. Khatami was an outspoken opponent of lawlessness and the
influence of vigilante groups. His three-year term was a period of relative
freedom for cultural and artistic endeavors, and in response to this, he was
harshly criticized by hard-line newspapers such as Keyhan and by Supreme
Religious Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. In his letter of resignation, submitted on
May 24, 1992, he explained
his departure by citing "the climate of insecurity that increasingly
bedevils cultural activities" in Iran,
warning that this situation threatened to condemn "intellectuals, artists
and even faithful friends of the Islamic Revolution" to
Four periods of relative freedom of
expression in Iranian modern history were the constitutional movement of
1905-1911; the years following the abdication from power of Reza Shah in favor
of his son Mohammad Reza Shah, from 1941-1953; a period of political crisis
from 1960-1963; and the revolutionary era from March 1978 to mid-1980 Each
period ended as the ruling powers consolidated their power. Censorship and
control are deeply rooted in Iran.
Many who are censored, imprisoned and exiled today were similarly punished in
In some respects, however, the current
situation is unique. The nature of censorship in Iran
cannot be separated from the system of governance established since the
revolution of 1979 based on velayat-i faqih or the "Guardianship of the
Velayat-I faqih presupposes a need for supreme guidance in the average person's
conduct of everyday affairs, and considers that the faqih is uniquely qualified
to provide such guidance, dictating the single acceptable way of life or value
system consistent with Shi'a Islam. Fundamental is the belief that every good
and pious citizen, like a child, may be steered wrong by a "perverse"
word, film or music, and thus what the citizen reads, sees and hears must be
closely monitored by the governing authorities. Ayatollah Khomeini wrote in
If someone should ask you, "Why has God,
the All-Wise, appointed holders of authority and commanded you to obey them?
You should answer him as follows: . . . "[M]en would not be able to keep
to their ordained path and to enact God's laws unless a trustworthy and
protective individual (or power) were appointed over them with responsibility
for this matter, to prevent them from stepping outside the sphere of the licit
and transgressing against the rights of others."
Thus, censorship in Iran
is not only proscriptive but also prescriptive. The Iranian writer, journalist,
film director or painter is required to steer clear of sensitive topics, such
as critical and candid assessment of the system of government, sources of authority
and Islam.Additionally, however, he or she must write, direct or draw in a
manner that conforms with the prevailing value system. In fact, the
Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Press Law of 1985 place on
every Iranian citizen an affirmative duty to serve the prevailing Islamic value
system and promote the "public good," as construed by the government.
The process of content control on the basis
of Islamic principles, however, is complicated by the fact that Islam itself is
subject to differing interpretations, In an interview with the magazine
Cineaste, film director Abbas Kiarostami stated:
everyone has a completely different interpretation. They're free to think what
they want. The danger comes when someone wants to say, "No. my
interpretation is the only right one."
The divergent interpretations of Islam are
mirrored in the divisions within the governing elite -- especially as regards
The laws governing public discourse in Iran
provide no effective protection for dissent or even deviation. The
Constitution's guarantee of freedom of expression is crippled by exceptions
requiring compliance with "the fundamental principles of Islam or the
rights of the public." The Press Law adds further debilitating exceptions.
Provisions in both instruments, apart from setting the limits of discourse,
also dictate its content: every citizen has the duty, in all aspects of his or
her life, "to enjoin the good and forbid the evil," a Koranic phrase for
the framework of the moral life. The press may not publish material that
promotes "prostitution" or "wastefulness" or "harms
the bases of the Islamic Republic." Even eligibility to start a
publication, under the Press Law, is limited to those who exhibit "moral
fitness" for that function.
The Constitutional and Press Law provisions
requiring that press offenses be tried openly and in the presence of a jury
were ignored until 1992. In that year, the two separate trials of the editors
of the magazines Farad and Gardoon were conducted in general courts and in the
presence of the press jury. The press jury consists of clergy, government
officials and editors of state- affiliated press. In one of these cases the
initial stages of prosecution, prior to trial, were marked by violations of the
Press Law and by the involvement of the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor.
Books, non-journalistic publications and
films are regulated separately. Vaguely-worded requirements in the regulations
on book publication make authors responsible for "guarding the positive
outcomes of the Islamic revolution" and forbid them from writing anything
that "profanes and denies the meanings of religion." A commission
under the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance oversees the publication of
book and other printed matter. Fimmakers, on the other had, are overseen by
four councils within the Ministry -- one to review a summary of the screenplay,
one to review the full screenplay, one to review the completed film and issue
or withhold a release permit, and the fourth to review, occasionally, films
denied a release permit. Forbidden topics in film include any that "denies
or weakens the principles of Islam." "depicts foreign culture,
politics, economy or society in a misleading manner," or "presents
any material that is against the interests of the country,"
In the meantime, a number of offenses related
to the press, writers and intellectuals based on the content of their work
remained unlawfully before the Islamic Revolutionary Courts. Islamic
Revolutionary Courts were instituted as a temporary measure to process the
large numbers of people arrested in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution. They
have since become a permanent feature of the Iranian legal system and are
notorious for their disregard of international standards of due process and for
heir harsh sentences. The government invokes the jurisdiction of the
Revolutionary Courts in offenses which, in its opinion, are not punished
severely enough by the general court -- disregarding the jurisdictional limits
of these courts under domestic law. Thus, journalists and intellectuals may be
prosecuted for the content of their work under the general rubric of acting
"against internal or external security."
This report covers more than sixty incidents
involving the prosecution, imprisonment or harassment of writers, filmmakers,
journalists and intellectuals based on the content of their work. A few cases
serve as illustrative.
The most widely known example of Iranian
censorship is Ayatollah Khomeini's issuance of a religious edict or fatwa
against a non-Iranian writer living outside Iran
in response to the content of a novel. On February 14, 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini
decreed that Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, and all
others associated with its publication were sentenced to death for apostasy and
that it was a duty after the edict, Hojatoleslam Hassan Sanei, the head of the
Fifteenth of Khordad Foundation, offered a bounty of $ 1 million to whomever
carried out the death sentence; since then, the bounty has been twice
increased, once in March 1991 to $2 million and again in February 1993 by an
unspecified amount. Meanwhile, agents of the fatwa struck on different
continents: in July 1991 both the novel's Japanese translator, Hitoshi
Igarashi, and its Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, were stabbed by unknown
assailants -- the former fatally. Since 1989, Rushdie has lived in hiding and
under police protection. Four years later, the fatwa remains in force and has
been reiterated by leading Iranian government officials and by vote of its
Less well known are the reprisals against
Iranians, living in exile, who have opposed the fatwa. On the third anniversary
of the edict, a group of fifty Iranian writers, intellectuals and professionals
in exile in Europe and the United
States issued a declaration condemning the
death sentence. In response, Ayatollah Janatti, a member of the council of
the works of all those signatories to the declaration.
The newspaper Jumhouri-ye Islami, affiliated
with Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, announced that those Iranians
who spoke against the fatwa had joined the list of "infidels"
deserving of the death sentence. Nevertheles, by the fourth anniversary of the
edict, in February 1993, the number of signatories had increased to 162. The
government has effectively banned the works of all the current signatories.
Two of Iran's
best-known artists have been particularly outspoken critics of the Islamic
Republic's censorship and harassment policies -- of which they themselves are
targets. In the case of Ali-Akbar Saidi-Sirjani, a writer and social critic,
the government initially notified him that it had no objection to his work.
After eight of his books were published, however, the government banned their
release, thereby imposing an unbearable financial burden on him, his family and
his publishers. All his other work is now also banned.
Film director Bahram Beizai has also
suffered under government-imposed financial constraints and self-censorship. In
response to influential pressure groups, the government required extensive
modification of his most recent film, Mosaferan (Travelers) -- after having
previously censored, issued an approval permit and even given an award to the
film. He was denied the right to travel with another of his films to an
international film festival in 1992, the screening of which was approved by the
Iranian government. For thirteen years, he has been unable to work in the
theater due to the withdrawal of his work permit.
Prison, fifty lashes and the prospect of
further imprisonment are the price that cartoonist Manouchehr Karimzadeh
has paid since the April 1992 banning of the science magazine Farad, which
carried a drawing of an apparently crippled soccer player who, for some
readers, resembled the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Tried not in general court as
required for press offenses but in the Islamic Revolutionary Court, as if he
had attacked national security, Karimzadeh was sentenced to one year in prison
for having created that drawing. In blatant disregard for his rights, almost at
the end of his prison term, the Supreme Court "revoked" his sentence
and required that he be "re-tried." A trial date has yet to be
Women artists and intellectuals, and the
depiction of women in art, are subject to especially strict constraints, and
any deviation from government norms is treated with severity. Shahrnoush
Parsipour, a novelist of much acclaim, was twice imprisoned by the Islamic
Revolutionary Prosecutor for her book Zanan Bedoun-e Mardan (Women Without
Men), once with her publisher Mohammad-Reza Aslani. They were tried in
the general courts along with two officials of the Ministry of Culture and
Islamic Guidance who had reviewed and issued a permit for her book, and all
four were acquitted. Despite their acquittal, Aslani's publishing house,
Nashr-e Nogreh, was bombed by vigilantes, and Parsipoor's wok remains banned.
Another woman novelist, Moniroo
Ravanipoor, who draws her inspiration from Iranian folk tales, started
experiencing censorship with the banning of her book Sanghay Sheytan (Devil's
Stones) after vehement attacks in the press in 1990. After this banning, her
previously published work was subject to more intensive scrutiny and censorship
at subsequent printings. Her book Kanizoo was banned in 1991 at its third
printing; it was published in 1993 after twenty months of negotiated
Historical, literary and cultural texts not
in line with the prevailing ideology are revised, reinterpreted or banned
outright. The life-long work of Ahmad Shamlu, a renowned modern poet,
has been banned on this basis. His Ketab-e Koucheh (Book of the Street) is a
compilation of 120 volumes of popular Persian sayings, slang and proverbs. The
popular lexicon in Iran
has strong secular and anti-clerical elements.
Mohsen Makmalbaf entered the film
industry after the revolution with a history of imprisonment under the Shah and
strong hezbollahi convictions. But, when his fourth and fifth films examined
the poverty and hopelessness of daily life for some Iranians, official
attitudes hardened: two of his later films were banned and a third censored.
Most recently, Makmalbaf sought the film board's approval for a script on the
1991 Gulf war, and it was rejected partly on the grounds that it had not
sufficiently focused on the plight of the Shi'a people. (Iran's
population is overwhelmingly Shi'a, as is its ruling clergy.)
The government, acutely aware of the
influence of the foreign news media, generally treats foreign journalists well
once they are allowed to enter the country. Iranian journalists working for
foreign news organizations, however, are particularly vulnerable to government,
Iranian photojournalist Kaveh Golestan prepared a video on the situation
of journalists working in Iran,
which presented an unvarnished portrait of the constraints on expression. He
lost his journalist card in June 1992 after the video was broadcast in England
and its transcript published by the free-expression group Index on Censorship.
He has also been prevented from leaving Iran.
The government has not indicated the basis for its ongoing
"investigation" of Golestan and the cancellation of his
Jahangir Jahanbagloo, an Iranian journalist,
had his journalist card canceled by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic
Guidance in November 1992. He has been the official representative of the
American television network NBC in Iran
since 1991. Over the past nine months, the Ministry has failed to provide any
meaningful explanation for its cancellation of his accreditation. The financial
consequences to Jahanbagloo have been serious.
Upon his return to Iran
to cover a news report for a foreign television network, an Iranian freelance
cameraman, Bahram Molaie, was arrested in 1987. Without being charged or
tried for any offense, he was imprisoned for forty-five days, and his
accreditation was canceled. Long after his release from prison, in 1991, the
government informed him that there was nothing in his file, and that it was now
closed. He is still unable to work as a journalist in Iran,
The Press Law, passed in 1985, was applied
for the first time in 1992 for the prosecution of two magazines editors before
the general courts and with a press jury. However, the Islamic Revolutionary
Prosecutor was unlawfully involved in the preliminary stages of one case. In
both instances, government prosecutions were initiated as a follow-up to mob
attacks against the offices of the magazines.
Nasser Arabha, editor of the science
magazine Farad, was imprisoned pending trial, then tried and sentenced to six
months imprisonment on the charge of "acting against internal
security." Farad had published a cartoon deemed by the government to be
insulting to Ayatollah Khomeini. The magazine remains banned.
The Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor,
exceeding his mandate and usurping the functions of the general courts,
indicted Abbas Maroufi, editor of the cultural magazine Gardoon, for
insulting and spreading rumors against the holy system and propagating
monarchical culture, and banned the magazine. The cover of the August 1992
issue of Gardoon was deemed anti-revolutionary. Although finally acquitted in
criminal court, Maroufi was not able to resume publication of the magazine
immediately after trial. A government representative "unofficially"
informed him that he should not publish his magazine until the javv was more
appropriate, and that the government could not be responsible for his life if
he defied the suggestion. The magazine subsequently resumed publication.
Recently, one magazine was banned and another
attacked by unchecked vigilantes on political grounds.
In April 1993, the magazine Rah-e Mojahed
published by Lotfollah Meissami was banned for printing statements by
Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. At one time the designated successor to
Ayatollah Khomeini, Montazeri is now an opponent and critic of Supreme
Religious Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rafsanjani.
In May 1993, the office of the scientific
magazine Kiyan was attacked by a group of motorcycle riders who called for the
closure of the magazine and the death of its editor, Reza Tehrani. At
issue was an interview the magazine had published with Mehdi Bazargan, the
former Prime Minister and head of the banned political organization
Nehzat-Azadi (Freedom Movement).
To the extent that the atmosphere for
expression in Iran has improved since the early years of the revolution, a
large measure of credit must go to the Iranians who have been determined to
continue speaking, writing, creating and thinking as they choose. Yet recent
indications are that even this small opening may be closing up again. The
Iranian government must change its policies to protect their right of free
expression, both through legal provisions that guarantee protection and through
the punishment of acts that seek to undermine that protection.
(1) To the government of Iran
Middle East Watch calls upon the Iranian
government to amend its laws so as to comply with international legal standards
on freedom of expression:
-Amend the constitution to remove those
portions that restrict the exercise of free expression (e.g. Arts. 9 and 24),
such that speech is protected consistent with international instruments to
which Iran is a
-Replace the existing Press Law with
legislation whose definition of libel and registration requirements for
publications do not infringe on protected speech and freedom of opinion.
Furthermore, in order to bring state conduct
into conformity with international law, Middle East Watch calls on the
government of Iran
-Abolish book and film censorship
-Cease all legal actions against newspaper
editors, journalists, writers, publishers and political activists that are
based on criticism or deviation from government policy;
-Bring about the rescission of Ayatollah
Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie and others associated with the
publication of The Satanic Verses, and the cancellation of the bounty offered
by the Fifteenth of Khordad Foundation for the murder of the author.
-Bring about the rescission of the fatwa as
extended to the 162 Iranian signatories to the declaration condemning the death
sentence against Rushdie; and annul official restrictions on the presentation
and publication of their works in Iran;
-Prosecute vigilante groups that attack and
destroy property and threaten lives in cases involving the press, book
publishers and other targets chosen in reprisal for their views;
-End the use of government-distributed paper (e.g.
for books and the press) and government-set prices (e.g. for books and film) as
means of control and censorship;
-Issue all government orders and directives
officially and in writing;
-Abolish ideologically-based criteria for
admission to university.
In order to encourage free and diverse
expression, Middle East Watch calls on the government to:
- Allow non-governmental voices access to
state-owned radio and television;
-Permit the establishment of independent
radio and television stations;
-Permit the establishment and circulation of
privately-owned and -published newspapers and political magazines.
Finally, Middle East Watch urges Iran
to reverse its recent policy of denying entry to the U.N. Special
Representative, Mr. Galindo-Pohl.
2) To the European Community
Middle East Watch calls upon the European
-Adopt a Community-wide position that
decisions regarding any EC aid and aid from individual member states to the
Iranian government -- other than that for humanitarian purposes -- will be
linked to grave abuses of the right to free expression, including the fatwa
against Salman Rushdie and those associated with The Satanic Verses and the
bounty for Rushdie's murder, and the Iranian government's arbitrary detentions
and prosecutions of journalists, writers, filmmakers and artists on the basis
of their opinions, as well as violent intimidation of such persons by groups
that operate with impunity;
-Pass a strong resolution highlighting the
overlooked plight of those Iranian artists and intellectuals whose right to
free expression inside Iran
is seriously curtailed, and of the 162 exiled Iranian writers and artists who
have publicly condemned the fatwa. The Council of Ministers should warn Iran
that any attack on Iranian dissident writers, artists and intellectuals living
in EC member countries will be treated as an attack on any LEC citizen; and
-Use the leverage provided by its growing
trade and investment links with Iran,
to press Iranian officials to permit a broad range of political and artistic
(3) To other trading partners of Iran
Middle East Watch urges these nations, in
-Use the leverage provided by their trade and
investment contacts with Iran,
to press Iranian officials to permit a broad range or political an artistic
that any attack on Iranian dissident writers, artists an intellectuals living
in their national territories will be treated as an attack on a citizen of
(4) To the United
Middle East Watch urges the U.S.
government to add to its already strong position on Iran
the public declaration that any attack on Iranian dissident writers, artists
and intellectuals living in the United States
will be treated as an attack on a U.S.
As a member of the international community of
nations and as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political
is bound by universal norms guaranteeing freedom of expression. The Iranian
government of President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani is in violation of these
Article 19 of the Covenant reads in part:
(1) Everyone shall have the right to hold
opinions without interference.
(2) Everyone shall have the right to freedom
of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in
writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his
Violations of Article 19 must be punished by
the government "notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by
persons acting in an official capacity (Article 2(3)(a))." The government
is required to ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms are violated
shall have an effective remedy, which includes adopting "such legislative
or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights
recognized" in the Covenant (Art. 2(2). It also provides that a
"competent judicial, administrative or legislative" authority
determine the rights of a person claiming such remedy; and that a
"competent" authority enforce such remedies when granted (Art. 2(3)).
Furthermore, Article 17 protects individuals
against unlawful attacks on their dignity and property by anyone and imposes on
the government a duty to safeguard this right. Article 17 reads:
1. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or
unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to
unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.
2. Everyone has the right to the protection
of the law against such interference or attacks.
Article 20 is also relevant to this report,
specifically with reference to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and all others
associated with The Satanic Verses. Article 20 states that "Any advocacy
of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to
discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law."
Finally, the Covenant is drafted in
accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in recognition of
the fact that freedom from fear is inherent to the ideal of free human beings,
and that such freedom is achieved only when an individual can enjoy his or her
rights without fear of arbitrary and unlawful government interference. The
Preamble reads in part:
[T]he ideal of free human beings enjoying
civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved
if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political
rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights . . . .
Constitution of the Islamic Republic
of Iran 
The Iranian Constitution guarantees of
freedom of expression are subject to qualifications that effectively impede the
free exchange of information and ideas. Freedom of expression is conditional on
compliance with the government's interpretation of Islamic norms and public
interest. Article 244 reads:
Publications and the press have freedom of
expression except when it is detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam
or the rights of the public. The details of this exception will be specified by
Furthermore, the "political, cultural,
economic, and military independence or the territorial integrity of Iran"
may not be infringed in any manner "under the pretext of exercising
freedoms" (Art. (). These provisions of the Constitution have been applied
by the government to restrict speech.
Other provisions of the Constitution intended
to protect speech have been largely ignored, such as Article 168, which states
that "political and press offenses will be tried openly and in the
presence of a jury, in courts of justice." Similarly ignored have been
Article 23, which prohibits prosecution of any person "simply for holding
a certain belief," and Article 25, which prohibits censorship unless
provided by law.
In the final analysis, the Constitution
permits control of expression by requiring that every citizen's conduct,
including speech, serve the government's notion of propriety. Article 8 imposes
on every citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran an affirmative and perpetual
duty "to enjoin the good and forbid the evil," pursuant to the
identical Koranic injunction.
In January 1992, the Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi announced, "Courts of justice and judiciary
branches have been notified that all press and political trials must be held in
the presence of juries and attorneys," Otherwise, he added, "the
verdicts will be nullified by the Supreme Court."
Yet prosecution of some press and political offenses were subsequently
initiated and/or tried by the Islamic Revolutionary Court. Notable examples are
the prosecution of cartoonist Manouchehr Karimzadeh and the indictment and
imprisonment of novelist Shahrhoush Parsipuor and her publisher, Reza Aslani
(see Chapters 2 and 6).
The Press Law was ratified in 1985. It
applies only to publications that appear regularly with sequenced numbers (Art.
1). Novels and other books do not come under the authority of this law.
Article 2 of the Press Law expands on the
constitutional and religious duty to "enjoin the good and forbid the
evil" and contemplates a specific role and content for the press, which
consist of the following.
(A) To enlighten public opinion and to raise
the level of people's knowledge and awareness in one or more of the areas
listed in Article 1 (e.g. news, commentary, social, political, economic,
agricultural, religious, scientific, technical, military, art and sports).
(B) To promote the goals that are expressed
in the Constitution.
(C)To struggle against false and divisive
classifications and to avoid pitting different strata in society against one
another on the basis of race, language, tradition and custom . . . [sic]
(D) To fight against the manifestations of
colonial culture (e.g. prodigality, waste, vanity, luxury and spread of
prostitution) and to promote and propagate authentic Islamic culture and
diffuse virtuous principles.
(E) To protect and strengthen the policy of
"neither East, nor West,"
In addition to this affirmative duty to
educate and promote particular values and ideologies, the press is prohibited
from engaging in discourse "harmful" to the principles and mandate of
Islam and public rights. Article 6 sets broadly defined restraints for the press,
which forbid publishing material that promotes "prostitution" or
"wastefulness;" "creates divisions among the different strata of
society," in particular on the grounds of racial or tribal affiliation;
"harms the bases of the Islamic Republic;" or threatens the "security,
integrity and interests of the" state. These prohibitions are subject to
much manipulation and arbitrary use by government officials.
Contradicting all the restraints noted above,
Article 4 of the Press Law categorically forbids all censorship and control of
the apres. It reads: "No official or unofficial authority has the right to
expert pressure on the press for the publication of any material or article, or
attempt to censor or control the press." However, the terms of this
provision have not been honored.
The Press Law requires that press offenses be
prosecuted before a jury in the courts of general jurisdiction (Art. 34). Every
two years, a council composed of the head of the judiciary, head of the city
council or alternatively the mayor, and a representative from the Ministry of
Culture and Islamic Guidance meets to select the press jury.
The council selects fourteen people "who are trusted by the public"
from a variety of social groups including: "clergy, university professors,
medical doctors, writers, journalists, lawyers, teachers, heads of notary
offices, guilds, tradesmen, workers and farmers." Seven serve as the
original jury, while seven are on reserve. Members of the press jury must meet
three prerequisites. They must: be at least thirty years of age, have no
criminal record, and be "known for trustworthiness and sincerity and have
After completion of deliberations and closure
of case, the press jury must decide two questions: (a) Is the accused guilty? And
(b) In the case of a finding of guilt, does the criminal deserve a reduced
The vote of the majority of the jury members
is submitted in writing to the court. The court reaches a decision based on the
jury's findings. If the jury has found the accused guilty, application of the
law and determination of the punishment are the sole prerogatives of the court.
Press matters are monitored by a five-member
council in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Art. 36).
The council, either on its own initiative or that of the Ministry, looks into
allegations of press offenses (Art. 12), and if legal action is deemed
necessary, the council is required to submit a written statement requesting
prosecution to the "court of competent jurisdiction" (Art. 12).
Despite these provisions, in practice other
government agencies, notably the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor; have
maintained control over the monitoring and prosecution of press offenses.
The Islamic Revolutionary Courts
At the instigation of Ayatollah Khomeini, the
the Islamic Revolutionary Courts on June
17, 1979, as a temporary measure to process the large numbers of
people arrested in the aftermath of the revolution. The Courts have settled
into permanence, however. Their jurisdiction, as amended in 1983, encompasses:
Any offence against internal or external
security, attempt on the life of political personalities, any offence relating
to narcotic drugs and smuggling, murder, massacre, imprisonment and torture in
an attempt to fortify the Pahlavi regime,
suppressing the struggles of the Iranian people by giving orders or acting as
agent, plundering the public treasury, profiteering and forestalling the market
of public commodities.
The government invokes the jurisdiction of
the Revolutionary Courts in offenses, including those relating to journalists,
writers and intellectuals, which in its opinion are not punished severely
enough by the general courts. The Islamic Revolutionary Courts have been widely
criticized for their disregard for due process and harsh sentences. Trials in
the Islamic Revolutionary Courts are routinely held behind closed doors,
without assistance of counsel or the right to present witnesses, and without
the right to appeal.
Regulations Governing Book Publication
Book publication is governed by regulations
issued by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance which were ratified in
Books and publications must serve a particular objective in the Islamic
Republic. Article 3(A)(5) of the regulations outlines these objectives, which
include "encouraging" the following:
(a) Strengthening and expanding research, as
a principle means of gaining cultural independence and increasing the public's
knowledge and ability to choose.
(b) Reasonable and knowledgeable defense of
political, economic, and cultural independence, especially in favor of the
principle "neither East, nor West."
(c) Guarding the positive outcomes of the
Islamic revolution, and struggling to strengthen and expand these outcomes.
(d) Introducing the Islamic revolution
through the compilation and publication of valuable scientific and cultural
Article 3(B) of the regulations indicates
which books or publications are damaging to the principles of Islam and the
right of the public and thus are not worthy of publication. It prohibits all
(1) ... [P]rofanes and denies the meanings of
(2) Propagates prostitution and moral
(3) Incites the public to an uprising against
and opposition to the order of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
(4) Propagates the objectives of destructive
and unlawful groups and strayed sects, and defends monarchic and dictatorial
(5) Creates unrest and conflict between
tribes and religious groups, and injures the unity of society and the
territorial integrity of the country.
(6) Insults or weakens national pride and
patriotism, and creates loss of self-confidence before the culture,
civilization and imperialistic regimes of the West or East.
(7) Propagates dependence on a global power
and objects to the line of thinking based on preserving the independence of the
Article 4 of the regulations requires that
the Ministry set up a commission to oversee compliance of book publications
with Article 24 of the Constitution. The Ministry must select at least five
persons for the commission. These persons must be "knowledgeable persons
or persons in the science or culture fields familiar with issues pertaining to
books, publication and social, political and propaganda affairs."
Chapter 6 describes in detail the censorship
process for the publication o books.
Regulations Governing Film Production
Film production is governed by regulations
issued by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which were ratified in
Four councils within the Ministry are
involved in the supervision, production and censorship of film:
Shoray-e Sodoor Parvaneh Filmsazi (Council
for Issuing a Production Permit) -- This council inspects the full text of the
screenplay and determines whether it can be produced. It is composed of five
persons knowledgeable in matters pertaining to film and cinema, selected by the
Bureau for Supervision and Evaluation and the undersecretary of the Ministry's
film division, and approved by the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
They include: a "filmmaking expert"; "production and management
expert"; and expert familiar with cultural and artistic affairs"; and
a representative from the Bureau for Supervision and Evaluation.
Shoray-e Bazbini (Council of Film Reviewing)
-- This council reviews the completed film and determines whether it should be
issued a release permit. It consists of the following five persons: "a
cleric familiar with artistic matters"; "three persons with
political, social and Islamic awareness and familiarity with film and
cinema"; and "an expert in film matters and domestic and foreign
cinema." A persona from the Bureau for Supervision and Evaluation is
present in the council's deliberations and is given the right to vote only when
he or she serves as a substitute for an absent member of the council.
Shoray-e Ali-e Nezarat (High Council of
Deputies) -- This council in certain circumstances reviews films which have not
been issued a permit by the Council of Film Reviewing. It consists of a senior
representative of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance; the
undersecretary of the Ministry's film division; the undersecretary of the
Ministry's cultural division; the undersecretary of the Ministry's artistic
division; and a senior official from the Baureau for Supervision and
In March 1993, the government publicly
released regulations governing film content that we excerpt below. (A more
limited roster of content restrictions had been made public in recent years and
the Ministry's technical regulations -- governing the steps to be taken for
film approval -- have been in foci for a decade.) These regulations
prohibit all material which:
-Denies or weakens the principles of Islam.
-Subverts Islam by propagating superstition
-Insults directly or indirectly God's
messengers, vali-ye faqih, the Leadership Council or qualified mojtaheds [those
learned in Islamic law].
-Profanes the sanctities of Islam and of
other religions recognized in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
-Denies humankind's equality on the basis of
color, race, language or ethnicity, negates the supremacy of virtue over all
other considerations, and aggravates racial and ethnic differences.
-Denies or weakens the highest qualities of
humankind (the veil, the spirit of forgiveness, sacrifice, modesty and . . .).
-Depicts or mentions situations that are
against Islamic virtue (slander, use of tobacco products . . .). [sic]
-Propagates vile acts, corruption,
prostitution and improper wearing of the veil.
-Educates on the topic of or encourages
dangerous and injurious addictions and illicit professions such as smuggling.
-Depicts foreign culture, politics, economy
or society in a misleading manner.
-States or presents any material that is against
the interests of the country and can be exploited by foreigners.
-Depicts scenes of murder, torture and
inhumane treatment in a manner that could cause viewers grief or miseducate
-Expresses or depicts historic and geographic
facts and the internal problems of the country in an exaggerated way or in a
manner that misleads the viewer and offends the principles of Islam.
-Depicts unpleasant sounds or scenes
(including those caused by technical defects) that could jeopardize the
-Involves films with low artistic or
technical value that could lead to a decline in the public's taste and
Even after securing the necessary permits for
production and release of a film, the regulations allow the undersecretary of
the Ministry's film division to postpone the screening of a film in response to
the necessities of political and cultural circumstances.
Chapter 8 describes in detail the role of the
councils and the censorship process for the production of film.
The number of publications in Iran
has fluctuated significantly since the revolution. At the present time, it has
once again risen to relatively high levels: in early 1993, the France-based
organization Reporters Sans Frontieres estimated that there were 560
publications nationwide, including thirty-three dailies, 105 weeklies, 221
monthly and twenty-five bi-monthly publications. But these bare numbers
misrepresent the narrow range of tolerated discourse and the strict mechanisms
of control. The current state of the press also provides a stark contrast to
the wide diversity of opinion that was expressed in publications during the
By the middle of 1979, it is estimated that
more than 260 government- or privately-owned papers were being published in Iran,
almost twice the number published prior to the revolution.
In the period known as the "Spring of Freedom," from March 1978 to
mid-1980, many previously banned or underground publications were sold and
distributed openly. Public debate and criticism centered on the possible and
emerging forms of governance. Soon after consolidating its power, however, the
ruling elite that emerged from the revolutionary struggles set about
restricting newly-gained freedoms. As part of a progressive tightening of
control, in a famous speech in November 1980 Ayatollah Khomeini asked the
government: "Why do you not stop these newspapers? Why do you not shut
their mouths? Why do you not stop their pens?"
The governmental onslaught against the press
started within months of the February 1979 revolution, as religious groups
loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini took over the major Tehran
daily newspapers Keyhan and Ettela'at. It intensified in August 1979 with the
Revolutionary Council's passage of a new press law, which was intended to bring
the media under government control. The 1979 Press Law required that all
existing publications obtain a license within three months; many publications
closed as a result. This onslaught culminated in June 1981 with a state of
siege against all political opposition organizations and the closure of their
publications. During this period, the owners and staff of newspapers,
publishing houses and bookstores were targets of imprisonment, and executions
were common. For a time, the press struggled to survive and maintain its
independence in the face of increasing restrictions and mob attacks, but to no
A more comprehensive press law was approved
by the Majlis after lengthy deliberations in January 1985, setting out
operating guidelines for newspapers and magazines. Unlike books and films,
which must be issued a permit prior to their release, newspapers and magazines
are controlled primarily through mechanisms that are triggered once they have
been published be submitted automatically to the Ministry of Culture and
Islamic Guidance. Printed opinion or reportage that exceeds the narrow limits
of acceptable discourse may lead to retaliation including unchecked mob
attacks, the suspension or closure of publishing facilities, and the prosecution
and imprisonment of those responsible. Integral to the government's control of
the press is the self-censorship bred by writer's and editor's fear of such
The government's failure or refusal to renew
permits also serves as a retributive mechanism. Article 8 of the Press Law
requires that print media obtain a permit from the Ministry before commencing
publication. Article 7(A) prohibits the printing of publications which do not
have permits, or those whose permits have been invalidated or cancelled
temporarily or permanently, by court order. The Ministry's five-member press
is required to specify the reasons for its rejection of a publication request,
notifying the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance of its decision within
three months (Arts. 11 an 13). Two months after the acceptance of a request,
the Ministry must issue a publication permit, and the publication must appear
within the following six months (Arts. 13 and 16).
The Press Law severely restricts eligibility to
start a publication. The right to publish newspapers and magazines is limited
to those Iranian citizens who exhibit what the government considers to be moral
fitness (Art. 9(4)). Those who held official positions between 1963 and 1978,
those associated with the Shah's regime, and those who supported that regime
are explicitly precluded from publishing newspapers or magazines (Art. 9).
Iranian journalists also are required to obtain accreditation from the Ministry
of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
The following section assesses the political
affiliation of national newspapers. It then describes instances of government
prosecution of newspaper and magazine staff, and of unchecked mob violence
against the press. The section concludes with the case of Manouchehr
Karimzadeh, prosecuted for a cartoon appearing in Farad magazine
Political Affiliation of National
All newspapers derive their funding from and
serve as mouthpieces for the government, semi-autonomous foundations or
influential clergy. There exist no truly independent newspapers in Iran.
Newspapers nevertheless reflect widely divergent views on governance and
policy, within the restricted paradigm of an Islamic government. Their pages
often serve as the prime battleground for ideological debate, factional
conflict and character assassination. An editiorial in the pro-Rafsanjani Tehran
Times of July 1992 stated:
Most newspapers were afflicted with
self-censorship or with a kind of party and group vengeance because, after the
victory of the revolution, officials in charge of the country's important
newspapers were mainly comprised of two parts: those who desired to use the
newspapers as a ladder of success to reach higher state posts or those who left
posts as ministers and top officials and fell in status and turned to the press
to be present in the country's politico-economic scene.
There are twelve national daily newspapers
currently published in Iran,
including two in English. A listing of daily newspapers follows with a profile
of each one's affiliation; the first two newspapers, Keyhan and Ettela'at, are
government-owned. The remaining newspapers are state-affiliated:
(Galaxy) -- This paper is the continuation of one of the best known
pre-revolutionary dailies after its property was expropriated by the
state-owned Bonyad-e Mostazafin (Foundation of the Dispossessed) and its staff
purged in 1979. Its subsidiary, Keyhan-e Hava'i, is published and distributed
abroad in Persian with several pages in English. It is aligned with the
hezbollahi faction, and its editor-in-chief is directly appointed by the
Supreme Religious Leader.
-Ettela'at (Information) -- This paper is
also the continuation of one of the most known pre-revolutionary daily, after
its property was expropriated by the state-owned Bonyad-e Mostazafin
(Foundation of the Dispossessed) and its staff purged in 1979. It follows a
conservative pro-clergy line often sympathetic to President Rafsanjani and with
considerable following inside the Majlis. Its editor-in-chief is directly
appointed by the Supreme Religious Leader.
-Keyhan International (English-language) --
This is the daily English subsidiary of Keyhan published in Iran.
-Jomhouri-ye Islami (Islamic Republic) -- It
was institued by the now defunct Islamic Republic Party in 1979, and, is
presently associated with Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It
is firmly in favor of a theocratic state dominated by clergymen and against
-Salam (Hello) -- This paper started publishing
in October 1990 and is associated with the group of clergy who broke off from
the governing elite and formed the Majma'-e Rowhaniyun-e Mobarez-e Tehran
(Tehran Combatant Clergy Association) (the breakaway group). The
manager and licensed publisher of the paper is Hojatoleslam Mohammad
Musavi-Kho'iniha. It strictly follows the line of the late Ayatollah Khomeini
and is critical of the economic, cultural and foreign policies of President
-Jahan-e Islam (World of Islam) -- This paper
was instituted in 1991 and is headed by Hadi Khamenei, the brother of Supreme
Religious Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. It also strictly follows the line of the
late Ayatollah Khomeini and is critical of the President's policies. It is
similar to Salam in political ideology.
-Kar-va Kargar (Work and the Worker) -- This
paper is published by Khaney-e Kargar (House of Workers), a workers' syndicate
with strong religious and state affiliations, that voices workers' grievances
with employers. Hossein Kamali, a member of parliament, heads the House of
Workers. It was initially set up by the leftists after the revolution, and was
later taken over by religious elements. It is sympathetic to the policies of
the Tehran Combatant Clergy Association (breakaway group).
-Tehran Time (English-language) -- This
paper, the continuation of a pre-revolutionary daily, is known to be associated
with the policies of President Rafsanjani and the Foreign Ministry. It is
published by the semi-autonomous foundation the Islamic Propagation
Organization headed by Hojatoleslam Ahmad Jannati.
-Abrar (Rightly Guided) -- This paper
replaced the newspaper Azadegan (Liberated) after the government ordered it
closed in 1985 for criticizing members of the Majlis. Azadegan, in the early
revolutionary period, in turn had taken over the confiscated printing presses
and premises of the left-wing newspaper Ayandegan (Futurists). It is published
by Ghafur Garshassbi and is believed to be aligned with the Tehran Combatant
Clergy Association (the breakaway group).
-Resalat (Prophetic Mission) -- This paper
has been published since 1986. It follows a conservative pro-clergy line,
sympathetic with President Rafsanjani's liberal economic policies but critical
of his relatively liberal stance on social and cultural developments. It is
owned by Hojatoleslam Ahmad Azari-Qomi, a prominent member of the Majlis.
-Hamshahri (Citizen) -- This paper is the
latest addition to the list of daily newspapers and is distinguished by its use
of color. It was launched by the mayor of Tehran,
Gholam Hossain Karbaschi, in December 1992. It seems to voice the opinions of
the more moderate factions within the political sphere.
In addition, there is one daily newspaper
published in the provinces, Khorasam, which is distributed at a national level.
There are no dependable estimates of the
daily circulation of individual papers. Keyhan is believed to be in the lead,
followed by Ettela'at, both of them with circulations in the range of 100,000
to 300,000. But it is unclear how many of these two papers are actually read,
since copies are distributed free to government offices. The remaining Persian
daily newspapers claim a circulation of 20,000 to 40,000. The two English
dailies have an estimated circulation of 5,000.
In a recent report, the combined circulation
of the national daily newspapers in Iran was estimated ate less than one
million--a small number in a country of about sixty million people.
The national papers get imported newsprint
from the government at a subsidized rate. Until recently, the government's
subsidy was the difference between the official and free-market foreign
exchange rates. Paper bought from the government at the official rate would be
up to twenty times cheaper than paper bought at the free-market rate. Since
March 1993, a single rate of foreign exchange has been implemented. The impact
of this development on the situation of the press in Iran
is uncertain, and much debated. For the time being, the government continues to
provide paper to the newspapers ant a subsidized rate, perpetuating official
Harassment of the Press
Although newspapers are all affiliated with various factions
of the ruling elite, their editors and staff have not been immune from violent
attack, government prosecution or censorship, especially when they have
implicated the regime in a scandal or criticized state policy.
When the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) recently
mass media for failure to counter "the enemy's information onslaught,"
an editorial in the newspaper Salam candidly identified three obstacles that
the media face:
Freedom in the writing of news
reports . . . and the guarantee of job security is one of the important issues .
. . . If the employees of the mass media have only a minimum of job security,
where one report or article that is disapproved of can get an entire
publication group fired, why should we expect people to want to join this
profession? . . . There is also the issue of the forbidden realms of news. The
fact that many questions are left hanging in mid-air without any answers by our
officials means many issues remain covert and only filter through the foreign
media . . . . [Public officials] believe that publications should merely be a
personal bulletin (for the officials) and not a strong modern institution for
the service of society, the country and the people.
In a number of instances,
newspapers and their staff have been the victims of unchecked mob violence:
-In May 1993, a bomb exploded on
the first floor of Ettela'at's main office in Tehran. No
one claimed responsibility for the bomb, and the protesters' motive was
obscure; but the attack is believed to be related to an incident about one
month earlier, when a group attacked the office of Ettela'at-e Haftegi, its
subsidiary weekly magazine, breaking windows. The protestors in that instance
objected to the picture of a Revolutionary Guard who had died in the war with Iraq;
it accompanied an article titled, "I have lost my mind."
-On August 26, 1991, Amin Sepehri, journalist
for Abrar, was briefly detained, shorn and dragged through the streets of
Pars-Abad in Eastern Azerbaijan with a rope around his neck on the orders of
the local judiciary and the governor for allegedly "having implicated the
local authorities in a financial scandal" in an article. He had accused
the governor and the Moghan authorities of favoritism in an agricultural
In other instances, the government has
prosecuted and imprisoned newspaper editors and journalists for the content of
their writing. For example:
28, 1992, the provincial manager of Keyhan in East
Azerbaijan and a reporter of that newspaper were arrested by order
of the Governor. Keyhan had reported on the discharge of the Governor of
central Tabriz, Behrouz Fakhmi, for
slapping a colonel of the disciplinary forces while on duty. Azar took this
report as a personal offense because he had appointed Fakhmi, and sent two
letters of protest to Keyhan. Following their publication. Azar ordered the
arrest and detention of the newspaper manager and the responsible reporter. The
reporter was beaten while in custody, and then released on bail pending
investigation of his case. As regards the manager, the government stated that
the complaint of the newspaper's manager was being investigated, and that an
effort was made "to avoid the violation of freedom of expression by the
press's alleged crime, not that of the government was under investigation.
On a number of occasions, the government has
charged journalists with espionage for activity that appears to be related to
the practice of journalism. Middle East Watch is aware of several foreign
journalists harassed in this manner.
At least one Iranian has also faced espionage charges: in June 1992, Salman
Heydari, a journalist for the newspapers Salam
and Abrar, was arrested on charges of espionage
and accused of giving "secret government documents" to certain
European embassies. The charges did not specify how he had obtained secret
documents or which embassies received these documents. His case was sent to the
Islamic Revolutionary Court. The case may have grown out of the fact that in
1989, the journalist was stationed in Turkey,
during which time he reportedly had requested a visa for the United
The government's application of the Press Law
to newspapers has been limited to providing protection to certain persons and
certain policies. A telling example is the government's application of the
anti-defamation provision. Article 23 of the Press Law provides that whenever a
false or insulting statement appears in the press, the person or legal entity
implicated may submit a written response within a month after publication of
the original statement; and the newspaper or magazine responsible for the
statement must publish the response in a print and location commensurate with
the original statement. If a response is not published, the person or legal
entity can file a complaint with the General Prosecutor. When false or
offensive material is published, Article 23(3) of the Press Law entitles the
General Prosecutor to issue an initial warning to a publication, and should
that not succeed in securing publication of a letter of protest from the offended
party, suspend the publication for a maximum of ten days and submit its case to
the court. There are only two known instances in which the government has
sought to apply its own laws against defamation.
-The first case was the September 1992
prosecution of the provincial manager and reporter of Keyhan for
"offending" the Governor of Tabriz, recounted above; in that case,
the government defined defamation so broadly as to encompass reporting on
- The second case is the recent prosecution
of the publisher of Abrar. On march 3, 1993, Ghafur Garshassbi, the publisher
of Abrar, was summoned to the Magistrate's Court of Tehran for publishing
allegedly libelous material that had led to complaints. That day, a press
release issued by the Public Relations Office of the court said that the paper
had repeatedly published materials with "unscrupulous allegations against
persons sometimes followed by either subsequent denials or corrections by way
of apology or reminder to readers or explanation." According to the
Islamic Republic News Agency, the publisher previously had been warned against
dissemination of such material.
Four months later, the nature of the charges against Garshassbi is not yet
Scores of non-political and specialized magazines
exit in Iran,
dealing with such subjects as economics, literature, sports, transportation,
technology and science. Unlike newspapers, some magazines are independent, but
these are denied the favorable government treatment that includes the allotment
of generous quantities of paper at the official exchange rate, and they have
small circulations, Deprived of a significant role in the national newspapers,
radio or television, Iranian intellectuals have turned to magazines as the
principal medium for voicing or the transfer of technology, for example -- can
serve as a cover for critical political and social commentary. There is,
however, no protection against mob attacks on magazines, their staff and
These attacks have sometimes occurred at the
incitement of government officials or the invitation of the state-affiliated
press. At all time the attackers have enjoyed immunity from government
prosecution. Examples of such attacks are:
- On June
23, 1992, protestors appeared at the office of Keyhan to object to
a sewing pattern published in its subsidiary women's magazine, Zan-e-Ruz
(Modern Woman). Salam
depicted the protestors as 300 motorcycle riders who chanted slogans and
trashed the newspaper facilities. In a markedly different version of the incident,
Keyhan stated that fewer than fifteen persons came to the office to complain
about the design. The pattern is a drawing of a woman modeling an Islamic
dress. The demonstrators contended that in the folds of the dress appeared a
profile of Ayatollah Khomeini, while to most, the claim was completely
unfounded and puzzling. Zan-e-Ruz continues to be published.
The incident exemplified, for many observers,
the interfactional fighting that shows through the vigilante groups' attacks on
the press. For example, and editorial in Abrar stated: "Those at Keyhan
who have approved of attacks on other publications must now understand that an
oversight, intentional or otherwise, must be handled in a court of law and not
Keyhan is the newspaper most frequently associated with encouraging mob attacks
on other press organs.
- In May 1992, a group of five men attacked
the office of Donya-ye Sokhan ) World of Words) and demanded to search the
premises. The three staff members who were working in the magazine office ate
time asked to see their official order. One of the five, in lieu of an order,
pulled out a pistol and proceeded to lock the three employees in a room. All
the files in the premises were gathered and placed under the computer in the
main room and blown up. No one was injured as a result of the bomb, but it
caused enough damage to force the closure of Donya-ye Sokhan's office for four
months, reappearing in September. The reason for the attack is not known.
However, in an earlier issue of the magazine, and article had suggested that
"martyrdom" was an inappropriate name for a boy's school. The
magazine had also published the work of some exiled writers, some of whom had
opposed the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.
Another tool of government control over
magazines is to suspend publication for varying periods:
-In January 1993, Ava-ye Shomal (The Sound of
the North), a weekly magazine published in Rasht, was suspended by the Ministry
of Culture and Islamic Guidance for the publication of a picture of a
"half-nude" woman in its movie pages. The official responsible for
the page was fired for "carelessness,"
though the director of the publication was not implicated in the incident. The
picture was associated with the screening of the American film Basic Instinct
-- an exceptionally daring movie in the Iranian environment.
-In March 1991, the ten-month-old radical
monthly magazine Bayan was forced to suspend publication
"temporarily" under pressure from religious conservatives. Bayan used
to be published by the Tehran Combatant Clergy Association (breakaway group).
On a number of occasions, vigilante attacks
have been a precursor to state prosecution of magazine editors and responsible
staff. The instances involving the magazines Farad and Gardoon are examples of
such prosecution. The prosecutions of the editors-in-chief of both magazines
before a jury in general courts mark the first applications of the Press Law
since its passage in 1985, and are discussed in detail in Chapter 3.
The prosecution of the cartoonist associated
with the Farad incident, however, deserves particular attention here, because
it was conducted before the Islamic Revolutionary Courts and in violation of
the Press Law. The treatment of the accused was arbitrarily harsh.
PROSECUTION OF CARTOONIST
On April 11, 1992, the Ministry of Culture
and Islamic Guidance banned the science magazine Farad and arrested Nasser
Arabha, its editor-in-chief, and Manouchehr Karimzadeh, a cartoonist, for
printing a cartoon that "insulted the founder of the Islamic Republic Imam
Khomeini." Karimzadeh was held at Evin prison in Tehran
pending his trial. He was tried before the Islamic Revolutionary Court without
a jury, and sentenced to one year imprisonment. An especially disturbing
feature of this case is that, in complete disregard of his rights, at the end
of his sentence, the Supreme Court required that Karimzadeh be
The Offending cartoon appeared in the April
1992 issue of the magazine and depicted a bearded man playing soccer with an
amputated hand and leg (see reproduction, below); the cartoon accompanied an
article on the poor state of soccer in Iran.
For some the man resembled Ayatollah Khomeini. Article 27 of the Press Law
provides: "On every occasion that a publication offends the leader of the
Islamic Revolution, the Council of Leadership or sources of emulation, its
license will be canceled and the editor and the writer of the material will be
referred to and prosecuted by a court of competent jurisdiction." Article
6(8) extends the scope of this prohibition to offensive cartoons as well. The
government removed all copies of the magazine form newsstands soon after its
A number of protest rallies were held in
front of the Farad office in Tehran,
and also in Qom, both before and
after the government's arrest of Arabha and Karimzadeh. In one such protest,
demonstrators chanted: "The American publisher must be punished. The
follower of Salman Rushdie must be punished. The last will of Imam Khomeini
must be complied with."
The demonstrators insisted on stricter scrutiny of the print media and the
maximum penalty for sacrilege -- the death sentence -- and sacked the office of
Certain aspects of the prosecution of Karimzadeh,
in contrast to that of the editor of Farad, remain shrouded in secrecy. The
exact date of his trial is not known, except that it preceded the more
publicized prosecution of Arabha in September 1992 before a general court and
in the presence of a jury. Tried before the Islamic Revolutionary Court,
Karimzadeh was sentenced to one year imprisonment and fifty lashes. He was also
fined 50,000 tomans (approximately $300).
His lawyer appealed the court's ruling. In
May 1993, in granting the request of the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor, the
Supreme Court affirmed the original finding of guilt, "canceled"
Karimzadeh's sentence (which he was almost through serving) and required that
he be 're-tried." A
date for his retrial has not yet been set.
SELECTIVE APPLICATION OF THE PRESS LAW
Passed in 1985, the Press Law has been
applied for the prosecution of press offenses only twice, in 1992. The cases
are described below. Not only were the prosecutions highly selective, but the
government failed to act in accordance with the Press Law in the Maroufi case.
In whose initial stages the Islamic Revolutionary Courts were used.
PROSECUTION OF NASSER ARABHA FARAD
11, 1992, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance -- on
recommendation of its press council
-- banned the magazine Farad and ordered the arrest of Nasser Arabha, the
editor-in-chief, and Manouchehr Karimzadeh, a
cartoonist, for printing a cartoon that "insulted the founder of the
Islamic Republic Imam Khomeini." Arabha was held at the notorious Evin
prison in Tehran pending trial. His
arrest followed mass vigilante attacks on the Farad office in Tehran,
demonstrations in Qom and instances
where protesters called for the application of the death sentence to Arabha.
The editor's trial was held on September 16, 1992, before Branch 2
of the Criminal Court in Tehran,
where he was represented by counsel. He was charged with "acting against
internal security and insulting the exalted Imam Khomeini." He denied the
charge but admitted negligence. He was tried and convicted by a seven-person
but the jury recommended leniency in view of his (cultural services" and
lack of knowledge of the cartoon. His case is the first press violation tried
by a jury before the general courts.
A number of hard-line newspapers, notably
Jamhouri-ye Islami and Keyhan, criticized the judiciary for its
"lenient" sentence in the case of Farad. By contrast, the
Rafsanjani-aligned Tehran Times, in reference to mass attacks on the Farad
facilities and protesters' demand for the execution of the editor, observed:
"[I]f the people are to implement punishments in these cases, this will
simply bring about chaos and anarchy, debilitate the judicial power, and rob
the mass media officials of job security."
Arabha was sentenced to six months in prison
and released in early 1993 upon completion of his sentence.
The magazine remains banned.
PROSECUTION OF ABBAS MAROUFI
Abbas Maroufi, editor-in-chief of the
literary and cultural monthly Gardoon, was charged with anti-Islamic offenses
and tried before a jury in the general courts in December 1992. His trial was
remarkable both for the rare application of the largely dormant Press Law of
1985 and for his acquittal. Nevertheless, the string of events leading up to and
subsequent to the trial illustrate the persistent extrajudicial and erratic
workings of censorship and government control.
The August 1992 issue of the magazine was
devoted to the topic of returning Iranian emigrants. It carried a cover
illustration by Parviz Kalantari, depicting a woman in Islamic garb lying
motionless on the ground while a plane resembling a tie (symbolizing the West)
passed overhead (see reproduction, below). Kwyhan reacted to this particular
issue by attacking the cover design as being anti-hejab,
and issued a public invitation to Muslim women to respond, in an August 8
article titled, "Is everyone asleep?"
On August 10, ten woman attacked the offices
of Gardoon and demanded that it be closed sown because of its offensive cover
illustration. When asked to present their official order, the woman at the head
of the group pulled out a pistol and stated that they were representing Hozeih
Honari Sazman Tabligat Islami (Art Center for the Islamic Propagation
Organization), an influential semi-autonomous foundation. The woman at the head
of the group was A. Saghfi, a writer for Keyhan.
A few days after this incident, the Islamic
Revolutionary Court summoned Maroufi, and asked him to deliver orders to twelve
who had previously written for Gardoon to present themselves to the Court.
Maroufi refused to deliver the orders. On October 9, after printing the
twentieth issue of Gardoon, the magazine was banned by order of the Islamic
Revolutionary Court in Tehran. This
order was in violation of Article 12 of the Press Law which authorizes the
press council, and not the Islamic Revolutionary Court, to pursue press
Maroufi was indicted by the Islamic
Revolutionary Prosecutor. As reprinted in the Iranian newspaper, Jomhouri-ye
Islami, the bill of indictment prepared by the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor
charged Maroufi with "Presenting ways and directives on how to oppose the
holy system of the Islamic Republic of Iran; spreading rumors against the holy
system and its officials; insulting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its
officials; insulting the lofty position of clericalism; insulting the precept
of sacred defense; insulting the Hezbollah; and propagandizing and propagating
a vile monarchical culture."
In November, Maroufi was attacked on the
street as he was leaving the Gardoon offices by two men in civilian clothes who
called him by name. His attackers pinned him to the wall and accused him of
being a drug smuggler, stating that they represented the Anti-Narcotics Section
of the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office." When a crowd gathered,
the two men departed.
Maroufi's one-day trial was held at the First
Criminal Court of Tehran (Branch 135) on December 8, 1992. Pursuant to Article 34 of the Press
Law, a jury was present -- a jury composed largely of Maroufi's professional
peers from the state-affiliated press.
Maroufi was represented by legal counsel, and the jury found him not guilty of
press offenses. In so
finding, the jury significantly stated: "Although the articles printed in
Gardoon, as cited in the bill of indictment, were not at times in line with the
aspirations of the Islamic revolution, they did not constitute a legal
court therefore acquitted Maroufi and allowed the magazine to resume
All preliminary stages of Maroufi's
prosecution, up to the point of trial, were in violation of the Press Law. In
issuing its verdict, the court acknowledged this fact by stating that the
Revolutionary Prosecutor's bill of indictment lacked a date and file number,
and that the bill itself violated Article 12 of the Press Law.
Although acquitted, Maroufi was unable to
renew publication of Gardoon immediately after trial as provided by the court's
order and Article 7(a) of the Press Law. In fact, after his trial, a government
official from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance called Maroufi and
asked him not to publish his magazine until after the Iranian New Year in March
1993, since the javv was not appropriate because of "hezbollahi pressure
groups." Should he choose to publish Gardoon before this time, the
official notified Maroufi, the Ministry "could not be responsible for your
life." Gardoon resumed publication in April 1993.
FOREIGN MEDIA AND JOURNALITS
The means of government control over the
foreign media are similar to those that govern the domestic press, largely
based on the threat of reprisal after publication. Reprisals for
"undesirable" news stories have included closure of local offices of
foreign news agencies, expulsion or imprisonment of foreign journalists, and
harassment or imprisonment of Iranian journalists who work for foreign news
Foreign journalists' access to Iran
was restricted soon after the revolution. The newly constituted Islamic
Republic of Iran expelled foreign journalists and closed local offices of news
agencies on the assertion that their reporting was "biased and
false." This was ironic, given that foreign journalists had played a
significant role in promoting and shaping the revolution -- as news of
escalating events inside Iran
was transmitted beyond its borders, the words of Ayatollah Khomeini were
carried from his new place of exile in Paris
to Iran by
numerous foreign radio stations.
Since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, however, restrictions on foreign
journalists have decreased.
The Central Office for Foreign Press and
Publications (Edareh Kol Matbooat va Rosanehay Khareji) of the Ministry of
Culture and Islamic Guidance supervises the activities of foreign journalists
and Iranians working for foreign news agencies. It is also responsible for
issuing the permit necessary for establishing a permanent office.
Iranian journalists working for foreign news
agencies are the most vulnerable to government pressure. They are often
"summoned" to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance,
questioned and held accountable for the reports of their affiliated foreign
news agency. Iranian journalists also enjoy far less latitude in reporting than
do their foreign colleagues.
For fear of further reprisal, Iranian journalists do not publicize incidents of
harassment, while the treatment of foreign journalists often receives
international coverage. The government, acutely aware of the impact of foreign
news, generally treats foreign journalists well once they are allowed to enter
Treatment of Iranian journalists working for
foreign news agencies at times extends beyond harassment and questioning. They
risk losing their journalist cards,
Temporarily or permanently, which has
significant financial implications. They also face imprisonment, sometimes
without being charged with any offense. For example:
- Jahangir Jahanbagloo, an Iranian freelance
journalist, has been working for foreign news agencies and television networks
over the past eleven years. He has been the official representative of the
American television network NBC since April 1991. In November 1992, however, he
was summoned to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and informed that
henceforth his accreditation was canceled. The representative of the Ministry
stated that he was acting on orders and didn't know the reasons for the
cancellation. Since November, Jahanbagloo has pursued his case with various
officials within the Ministry and inquired about the reasons for canceling his
journalist card but to no avail, Official responses have been varied and
arbitrary, ranging from "You did not work within the framework," to
"We acted upon orders from above," to "Your must have contacted
persons your shouldn't have contacted." In March 1993, Jahanbagloo wrote a
letter to the head of the Ministry stating that his basic rights had been
denied and, once again, requesting to know the reasons for canceling his card.
The government ha not responded to his letter. The financial consequences of
the government's arbitrary interference with his ability to pursue his
profession have been serious.
-Bahram Molaie is an Iranian freelance
cameraman who has worked for a number of foreign television networks, including
the American CBS and ABC networks, in Iran.
In August 1987, when he had returned to Iran
to cover a news story, he was interrogated by the Ministry of Intelligence
about his work; his journalist card was taken from him, and he was asked to
sign a declaration that he would not leave the country until further notice.
Subsequently, officials confiscated his passport. In March 1988, without being
charged with any offense, he was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary
Prosecutor and imprisoned for forty-five days in Evin Prison in Tehran
without trial. It was not until long after he was released from prison that the
Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office notified him, in late 1991, that the
reason for his investigation and imprisonment was the "suspicion of
espionage," but, since there was nothing in his file, it was now closed.
Molaie was later allowed to travel outside of the country, yet he has been
unable to recover his journalist card and is still barred from working in his
profession in Iran.
Foreign news agencies with local offices are
more vulnerable to government pressure and harassment than visiting foreign
journalists, and their employees have also on occasion been summoned to the
Ministry in response to "undesirable" news stories. Agence France-Presse
(AFP) is the only leading Western news agency operating out of Tehran.
The other news agencies with permanent offices in Tehran
include: New China News Agency (China),
Tass (Russia), SANA
(Syria), JANA (Libya)
and WAFA (Palestine News Agency). The Japanese Asahi, Kiyoda, Yomiuri and
NHK-TV news agencies also have permanent representatives.
The government uses visas as the means to
control other foreign journalists. Chris Hedges, The New York Times's Middle
East correspondent, told Middle East Watch that the issuance of
visas is based on a system of "reward and punishment."
The government refuses to issue visas to journalists, some temporarily and
others permanently, whose past work it does not like. A French correspondent,
when she applied in early 1993 for a visa to follow up on a visit made last
year, was told by an official at the Iranian Embassy: "We don't like your
work. You are not fair. You are not kind to us. We won't give you a visa. You
will have to wait for months and months." Despite this admonition, she was
invited to visit Iran
in February 1993 for President Rafsanjani's press conference, and returned once
again in June 1993 to cover the presidential elections.
Visas, however, do not always guarantee that
the journalist will be allowed into the country. For example, in February 1993,
Chris Hedges was given a five-day visa to attend President Rafsanjani's press
conference. Once he arrived at the airport, his passport was taken from him and
he was detained at the airport overnight and denied phone calls. Early the next
morning, he was expelled to Turkey.
The Iranian government attributed the incident to the fact that the officials
at the airport were concerned about the "authenticity" of his visa.
Subsequently, Hedges visited Iran
in June for two weeks.
Once foreign journalists arrive in Tehran,
they are required to check in with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance
and leave their addresses. Movement within Tehran
is unrestricted. One journalist recently told Middle East Watch, "Your
jump into a taxi and go wherever your want and speak with whomever you
want." Meeting with certain government officials, however, is not easy.
Photojournalists or cameramen are more likely to attract the attention of local
authorities and to be questioned about their activities. Journalists who
require the assistance of translators are also more subject to official
control. Translators must be approved by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic
Guidance and are often employees of the Ministry itself.
Movement outside of Tehran,
however, is strictly monitored. In order to leave Tehran,
journalists must obtain written permission from the Ministry, which in most
cases means being accompanied by a representative of the Ministry. There may be
adverse consequences to traveling without a permit:
-In his June 1993 visit, Hedges traveled to
Nowshahr on the Caspian Sea without permission; he was
arrested, detained for five hours and ordered to return to Tehran.
-In June 1993, two Dutch journalists left Tehran
without a permit from the Ministry. With the assistance of two foreign friends
as translators, they traveled by taxi for four days. On their return to Tehran,
they were met at their hotel by officials from the Ministry of Intelligence who
had been looking for them during their absence. The Iranian taxi driver was
taken away, interrogated about the places they had visited and people they had
spoken with, and later released.
Due to the lack of centralized control in Iran,
some foreign journalists have discovered that their written permission was not
sufficient for local authorities. The areas bordering Iraq
are particularly sensitive. By contrast, visiting other places, such as the
historical and cultural city of Isfahan,
is actively promoted by the government.
The movement of foreign journalists and their
access to information were more closely monitored during the Iran-Iraq war.
Reporting on the war could lead to expulsion and detention:
-In January 1987, Gerald Seib, the Middle
East bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, was arrested in Tehran,
detained for six days and then released.
He was accused of being a "spy of the US,
Israel and Iraq"
during his ten-day stay in the country. Seib was one of fifty foreign
journalists invited by the Iranian authorities to report on the Iranian
military offensive in the Iran-Iraq war.
13, 1986, Hugh Pope, a Reuters correspondent, was expelled on the
accusation that he had revealed military secrets in a dispatch concerning an
Iraqi raid on a satellite communication station.
Political factors can affect the treatment
accorded foreign journalists. In a number of instances, the Iranian authorities
have retaliated against adverse policies implemented by foreign governments by
expelling journalists working for that country's news media. For example:
- On February
20, 1990, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance revoked the
accreditation of the Iranian stringer working for the British Broadcasting
Corporation in Tehran, in reprisal
for the British government's deportation of nine Iranians, including the head
of the Iranian radio and television bureau in London.
-At the end of February 1986, the authorities
expelled four Frenchmen, including Jacques Charmelot, the AFP correspondent in Tehran.
Although the authorities charged them with "spying:" for Iraq,
it is believed that the expulsions were a response to the expulsion by France
of two Iranians and two Iraqi dissidents close to Iran.
While foreign journalists' access to Iran
has improved since the Iran-Iraq war, the resignation of the former Minister of
Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mohammad Khatami, has meant new restrictions for
some journalists. One foreign reporter told Middle East Watch that for the
group associated with Khatami's successor, Ali Larijani, once again
"foreign journalists are the equivalent of spies." Foreign
journalists in general, however, find working conditions in Iran more favorable
tan in some other countries in the region, such as Iraq and Syria, and one
Iranian working for a foreign news agency told Middle East Watch that in the
past year the Ministry's treatment of foreign press had become more
professional and less confrontational -- while adding that these improvements
applied only to foreign, and not domestic, media.
Under Article 22 of the Press Law, foreign
printed matter entering the country must accord with "religious norms, the
Constitution and the system of the Islamic Republic." Such foreign newspapers
and magazines as the Financial Times, Der Spiegel, Time and Newsweek therefore
can be purchased at Tehran newsstands, but only after the Ministry of Culture
and Islamic Guidance has approved their content. For example, the February 19
and March 12, 1990 issues
of Newsweek were banned from distribution due to their coverage of the Israeli
politician Ariel Sharon and the gay movement in the United
The May 18, 1993 issue of
Der Spiegel was banned because it contained an interview with Salman Rushdie.
Additionally, the expensive price and limited circulation of these periodicals
limit their reach.
PUBLIC ACCESS TO INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Official international news broadcasts in Iran
are placed within the framework of cultural domination, Eastern imperialism and
national struggles for independence and non-alignment. Official reports
emphasize primarily the Arab and Islamic world, and secondarily the
underdeveloped and colonized world. Despite the anti-Western rhetoric of the
Islamic Republic, however, its news agencies rely significantly on the major
Western news agencies; one study estimated that Western news agencies supplied
sixty-one percent of all foreign stories.
Foreign radio broadcasts, moreover, provide an important, unofficial source of
news (see Chapter 5).
Iranian newspapers, radio and television
primarily access international news through state-affiliated agencies. The most
common source of foreign news is the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), which
is a part of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. IRNA provides news
through its own representatives in thirty countries. It also serves as an
intermediary for news form foreign news agencies to the local press. In the
past, due to an unrealistic official exchange rate,
the local press could not afford to buy news directly form foreign news
agencies in foreign currency and instead would purchase news from IRNA in
Iranian currency. The recent merging of the three separate foreign exchange
rates into one rates may alter this practice. Voice and Vision of the Islamic
Republic of Iran, the government radio and television network, also has its own
A BANNED JOURNALIST
Kaveh Golestan, an Iranian photojournalist
well known for his work on the 1979 revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, has been
prevented from leaving Iran and from working since June 1992. The reason is a
film made in Iran
and screened abroad with the full approval and knowledge of the Ministry of
Culture and Islamic Guidance. With the constantly changing tide, or javv, and
internecine conflicts, previously-obtained permits have provided him no
protection against government arbitrariness and abuse. More than a year since
the investigation against him began, Golestan still awaits disposition of his
Golestan was commissioned by the United
Kingdom's Channel 4 TV program South
to produce a film on Iran.
After consultation with the Ministry, Golestan started work in January 1991
describing the situation of journalists working in Iran.
The twenty-seven-minute film, Recording the Truth, brought together Iranian
journalists from a variety of political and social backgrounds and solicited
their views on freedom of expression, the universality of human rights
principles, and democracy. This endeavor provided a rare and untainted glimpse
into the world of journalists working in Iran
who took positions for and against the policies of the government.
Significantly, most work on the film occurred during the period of relatively
enhanced freedom of expression under former Minister of Culture and Islamic
Guidance Mohammad Khatami.
Prior to release, the film was viewed and the
accuracy of its content approved by all who had participated in it. As
previously agreed, Golestan also submitted a copy of the unedited version to
the Ministry, along with a request for permission to take the film abroad. The
Ministry did not respond to this request for over six weeks, despite numerous
inquires by Golestan. In order to secure a permit to export the film in time to
meet his contractual obligations, Golestan obtained the assistance of
Hojatolesman Mohammad-Ali Zam who heads the Hozeih Honari Sazman Tabligath
Islami (Art Center
of the Islamic Propagation Organization), an influential semi-autonomous
The film was first presented on December 14, 1991 on the South
program and was made available at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January 1992.
Additionally, a full translated transcript of the film appeared in the March
1992 issue of Index on Censorship. The political climate in Iran,
however, had undergone a significant change since the previous year, marked by
Khatami's resignation on May 24, 1992
and its acceptance by President Rafsanjani on July 14.
Since his return to Iran
in June 1992, Golestan has been unable to leave the country. Within days of
arriving in Tehran, he was summoned
to appear before the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office. On July 14, 1992, Golestan was served
with a summons.
The Next day, he presented himself to the
officials at the Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office and was interrogated by
representatives of that office and of the Ministry of Intelligence. Before
being released that afternoon, he was required to sign a declaration that he
would not leave the country. Even travel outside the capital must be approved
by the government, with the possibility that he be accompanied by an official.
His journalist work permit has been cancelled "pending further
investigation and disposition of his case."
All the journalists featured in the film were
also questioned and then released by the Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office in
February 1992. After questioning, they were instructed to cease all contact
with Golestan. Although not subject to any official sanction, they are
experiencing much difficulty in having their work accepted by newspapers and
Since his interrogation, an official from the
Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office has been assigned to Golestan's case. The
official has informed him verbally of questions "critical" to the
investigation and directed that he respond to them in writing. The only paper
trail that exists involves statements in Golestan's own handwriting. Golestan
has consistently maintained that he has not violated any law.
In testimony to the complexity and contradiction
that shape the day-to-day existence of artists and intellectuals in Iran,
last fall after having been stripped of his journalist card and barred from
leaving Tehran, Golestan was asked
by the government to teach at the Arts
College at the University
of Tehran. In hopes that this would
assist the resolution of the government's investigation, he accepted the
position. But little has been done to end the unlawful and arbitrary official
interference with his life and profession.
STATE CONTROLLED RADIO AND TELEVISION
In a country that is forty-eight percent
illiterate, radio and television are critical forms of communication. The
Islamic regime places these media under the direct supervision of the religious
leader and the three branches of government. Article 175 of the Constitution
reads in relevant part:
The appointment and dismissal of the head of
the Radio and Television of the Islamic Republic of Iran rests with the Leader.
A council consisting of two representatives each of the President, the head of
the judiciary branch and the Islamic Consultative Assembly shall supervise the
functioning of this organization.
The Constitution's Preamble requires that the
mass media "must strictly refrain from diffusion and propagation of
destructive and anti-Islamic practices," and exclusively serve the views
of the prevailing ideology.
Radio and television programs have the
advantage of reaching a large number of people; there are an estimated
5,250,000 TV sets in Iran.
The mass appeal of their programs, however, is limited by their lack of
diversity and largely political and religious content. Of the two radio
networks that transmit nationwide, Radio Network 1 broadcasts a mix of news
reports, talks, speeches and non-vocal music; Radio Network 2 primarily
broadcasts parliamentary debate, Friday prayer sermons and religious teachings.
There are also two TV channels. Channel 1 covers ninety percent of the country,
and Channel 2, sixty-five percent. TV programs primarily consist of news
reports, competitions, Islamic ideology courses, and political programs. A
third TV channel was expected to start operating in 1993, covering sixty
percent of the country, but so far has not begun broadcasting.
No voice other than that of the government finds
a place in the radio and television. Even contentious discourse from within
government circles is not broadcast. For example, on October 3, 1991, the direct emission of the
parliamentary debate on the radio was abruptly cut off when the debate between
partisans of Ayatollah Khamenei and other factions within the Majlis became
Deviation from the government line carries
penalties. On January 29, 1989,
for example, Ayatollah Khomeini was deeply offended by a radio interview in
which a woman stated that her role model was not the daughter of the prophet
Mohammad but a Japanese TV soap-opera star. As a result, the persons
responsible for the emission were punished. The broadcast director at the Tehran
radio, Mohammad Arab Mazar-Yazdi, was sentenced to five years in jail.
Three directors of the in-house "Islamic ideology group" were
sentenced to four years each. All four were also sentenced to fifty lashes. On
February 2, Ayatollah Khomeini granted amnesty to all four.
Mass media traditionally have been placed
under the supervision of "insiders." During the Shah's last decade in
power, Reza Qatbi, the cousin of Queen Farah, was in charge of the radio and
television. Immediately after the revolution, Sadeq Qotbzadeh, the main
spokesman for Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris,
assumed this position until he was executed for "plotting against the
revolution and against Islam." Mohamad Hashemi, the brother of President
Rafsanjani, is presently in charge of the radio and television network, the
Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Technology, however, poses a significant
threat to the government's campaign to control information and images through
the control of the mass media. Satellite communication and radio broadcasts
serve as conduits for the "onslaught" of foreign values and anti
revolutionary propaganda which jeopardize the supremacy of the Islamic system.
For the most part, these media lie outside the government's control. Although
the use of satellites in prohibited, there are an unknown number of satellite
dishes in Iran.
Moreover, large numbers tune in to foreign radios for news.
Recognizing the government's inability to block these channels of exchange, the
Minister of Interior Hojatoleslam Abdollah Nuri stated on December 10, 1992.
Cultural issues are of great importance
because we cannot repulse TV and radio waves transmitted from alien countries.
Rather, we should act in such a manner that if people are to choose between
foreign TV programs and ours, our programs will be their choice. This is not
possible unless we enhance our publicity capability.
A number of political opposition groups
forced to continue their struggles in exile dispatch radio programs to Iran.
Below we provide a partial listing of these clandestine radio broadcasts, their
political affiliation and their place of transmission. The government has been
more successful in jamming broadcasts by Iranian opposition groups, which tend
to have relatively weak transmission, than foreign government-owned radios.
Border provinces such as Kurdistan and Khuzestan more
easily receive these programs, due to their transmission from neighboring Iraq
Foreign television broadcasts reaching the
border provinces of Iran
from neighboring countries such as Iraq,
Turkey and Azerbaijan
also provide an alternative to government television. Iraqi state television
broadcasts also include a weekly program by the People's Mojahedin Khalq of Iran,
an armed opposition movement.
PARTIAL LIST OF CLANDESTINE RADIO
BROADCASTS TO IRAN
-Seda-ye Kurdistan Iran
(Voice of Iranian Kurdistan). Organization: Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran.
Broadcast from Iraq.
In Persian and Kurdish.
Iran (Voice of the
Iranian Revolution). Organization: Iranian Communist Party (Kurdish wing).
Broadcast from Iraq.
In Persian and Kurdish.
-Seda-ye Kurdistan Iran,
Rahbari Engelabi (Voice of Iranian Kurdistan, Revolutionary Leadership).
Organization: Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran
(Revolutionary Leadership). Broadcast from Iraq.
In Persian and Kurdish.
-Seda-ye Mojahed (Voice of the Mojahed).
Organization: People's Mojahedin Khalq of Iran.
Broadcast from Iraq.
-Radio-Azadi (Radio Freedom). Organization:
National Resistance Movement of Iran.
Broadcast from Egypt.
-Seda-ye Jonbesh-e Mojahedin-e Baluchestan-e Iran
(Voice of the Crusaders of Iranian Baluchestan). Organization: Crusaders of
Iranian Baluchestan. Broadcast form Iraq.
-Seda-ye Hoquq-e Bashar va Aazadi-ye Iran
(Voice of Human Rights and Freedom for Iran).
Organization: Human Rights and Freedom for Iran
(Previously Flag of Freedom). Broadcast from Egypt
At first glance, the Iranian regime does not
appear to appose the circulation of ideas through books. The number of published
book titles has increased notably since the pre-revolutionary era, while still
remaining at modest levels in a country of approximately sixty million people.
One study estimates that 2,777 books were published in 1976 and 4,810 books in
Religious texts constitute a significant portion of books published since 1979,
estimated at twenty-five percent in 1990.
Similarly, there has been a significant rise in circulation; the average number
of print runs for a book is presently around 3,000, as compared to 1,000 to
2,000 before 1979.
The government stated in a report to UNESCO that 2,993 book titles entered
their first printing in 1992, with a total circulation of 24,309,000.
The quantity may obscure the fact that the content of these books is controlled.
Of prime interest are books relating to
revolutionary experiences in general and that of Iran
in particular. Translations of such books often present little political
difficulty to Iranian writers and publishers and, for this reason, are quite
The works of Western philosophers, sociologists, political scientists and
literary figures are also widely available in translation. Compared to the
pre-revolutionary period, there is a more diverse pool of translated work,
including Arab, African and Latin American authors. In the period of 1986-1990,
experienced a dramatic 355-percent increase in the importation of books,
primarily by English- and French-language publishers.
An annual International Book Fair, held in Tehran
since 1988, brings foreign books and publishers to Iran.
The regulations of the Fair require that foreign publishers comply with the
moral standards of the Islamic Republic o Iran:
"Books with obscene images, anti-religious and anti-Islamic works, as well
as all works that propagate Zionism and racial discrimination are
Sixth Book Fair in May 1993 was attended by representatives of 320 foreign
publishing houses. Of these, fifty-three were American and seventy-three
bilateral tensions between Iran
and the U.S.
and British governments, over the Salman Rushdie affair and other issues, meant
that they were represented at the fair by their Iranian agents. French and
German publishers did not take part in the book fair at all because of the
Rushdie affair, Arab countries, namely Libya,
Egypt and Syria,
had a significant constituency at the Fair.
Due to strained government relations, Egypt
was also represented by Iranian agents.
Censorship is pervasive, however. Nearly
three-fourths of the books published in Iran
are funded by the state or state-aligned foundations.
And through a range of formal and informal mechanisms, the government censors
books -- because they are popular and not in accord with the prevailing
ideology, or because their authors' very identity is considered
"counter-revolutionary," as in the case of writers who have opposed
the regime's excesses. To evade the official controls, there is a lively
exchange of photocopied banned books and poetry that circulate underground at
THE SCOPE OF CENSORSHIP
The thousands of years of Iranian history
have produced a particularly rich literary tradition. But the
"seditious" written word does not seriously endanger the official
value system, for nearly half of the population is illiterate, and avid readers
constitute a minority. Since the summer of 1991, moreover, book sales have been
on the decline due to their rising cost and generally difficult economic
conditions. The relatively few volumes published per print run, and exorbitant
prices for books, additionally hinder their distribution. Particularly in the
case of controversial books that appear in the market from time to time, as one
Iranian writer told Middle East Watch, they serve only to "preach to the
There is no comprehensive listing of banned
books or writers; the government rarely issues formal banning orders. The
remarkable exception is the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Ghidance's November
1992 order banning all the works of two poets residing in exile, Nader
Naderpour and Esmail Khoei, in reprisal for their publicly stating their
opposition to the Salman Rushdie fatwa.
As a general rule, publishers often are informally and verbally notified of
prohibited work or, by the force of deeply ingrained self-censorship, stay
clear of controversial work.
Controversial books may include sociological
works that discuss Iran's
pre-Islamic past or the secular roots of Iranian society. For example, the
recent work of Ahmad Shamlu,
a renowned modern poet, has been banned since the publication of its first six
volumes in the early years after the revolution. Ketab-e Koucheh (Book of the
Street) is a compilation of 120 volumes of popular Persian sayings, slang and
proverbs. The popular lexicon in Iran
has strong secular and anti-clerical elements.
The work of persons in exile can also be
controversial, especially those persons who actively oppose the policies of the
government abroad. Even the mention of their names or use of their portraits
can be problematic. Two examples:
-The book Sad Film Dar Tarikh Cinema-y Iran
(A Hundred Films in the History of Cinema in Iran)
by Ahmed Amini was originally published with a picture of Parviz Sayad
as the popular character Samad on the cover a long with many other photographs.
After publication, it was gathered up and banned. A new version was published
with a plain colored cover.
-The book Sher No As Agaz Ta Emrooz (Modern
Poetry from the Beginning to the Present), compiled by Mohammad Hoghoogi,
initially included poems by the modern poet Nader Naderpour and was banned in
November 1992. A new version was published without Naderpour's poems.
Censorship and control are a part of the
everyday life of most writers and publishers. Despite the absence of official
orders, the government's role in institutionalizing control and censorship is
unmistakable -- even when they occur at the hands of the apparently
freewheeling market forces or at the behest of pressure groups speaking for the
"public." For some writers and publishers, however, government-imposed
sanctions extend beyond censorship to confiscation of property, prosecution and
The following section first sets out the
government procedures governing the censorship and publication of books and
analyses the unique role played by publishers in effectuating government
censorship and the risks they face. The section concludes with the profiles of
three writers, Ali-Akbar Saidi-Sirjani, Moniroo Ravanipoor and Shahrnoush
Parsipour, whose books have been banned by the government.
THE CENSORSHIPD PROCESS
Regulations issued by the Ministry of Culture
and Islamic Guidance govern the publication and release of books (see Chapter
1). The Ministry requires that an approval permit be issued at two stages of
the publication process that an approval permit be issued at two stages of the
publication process before a book's final release. The two stages of approval
occur at a time when any required amendment will result in significant
additional costs for the author, publisher, printer and binder, and a ban will
lead to irrecoverable loss. Official permits, however, do not guarantee the
long-term circulation of a book or provide protection for the writer or
publisher against prosecution or mob violence.
The direct involvement of the Ministry in the
process of publication commences when a book is at an advanced stage. In a
deceptively liberal gesture, the Ministry does not require pre-approval of
manuscripts for publication. Instead, a publisher is free to select manuscripts
for publication and forward them to the printer. The printer typesets the
manuscript and prints copies at the expense of the publisher or author. The
printer then binds one copy of the printed book, gives it a temporary blank
cover and submits it along with a form indicating name of author and publisher,
number of copies printed and date of publication for consideration by the
Ministry's Censorship Committee.
The committee responds to the request in one
of three ways. If it approves the book, an official permit is granted to release
the book form the printer to the binder for binding and covering. The name of
the binder is specified in the permit. The publisher or author naturally incurs
the costs of these processes.
Alternatively, however, if the committee
disapproves of portions of the book, the Ministry will call either the
publisher or the author and will notify him or her verbally of the faulty
portions, with instructions to make the necessary changes and resubmit the book
for consideration. As discussed elsewhere in this report, the relevant
officials -- in this case, the members of the Ministry's Censorship Committee
-- leave no written record of their "suggested amendments."
Modification at this stage is very costly; it involves changing the entire
signature of pages (usually a 16-page unit or grouping of pages) where an
alteration must occur, in every printed copy of the book. The burden of these
costs once again falls on the publisher or author.
As a third option, the committee instead of
issuing an official order banning a book may merely not respond to the request
for releasing galleys to the binder. In practice, no time limits exist for the
committee's consideration of submitted works, which has lasted from days to
years. Pending a government response, the books are stored at the printer's
facilities until such time as, due to financial and space constraints; the
printer will either burn the books or recycle them. In some cases, a
representative of the Ministry personally supervises this process.
However, if a permit is granted for the
bindery, ten copies of the first print and five copies of subsequent prints of
the book are given to the Ministry for the second approval and pricing. At this
second stage of review, the Ministry can either price the book and issue a permit
allowing for its distribution and sale; require modifications; or merely choose
not to respond to the pending request. Where the Ministry fails to respond for
a prolonged period of time, the printer, once again under financial and space
constraints, destroys the books.
Pricing is used as a tool of censorship in
one of two ways. A book is either priced so high that no one can afford it, or
so low that the cost of production, especially the purchase of black market
paper. Cannot be recovered. Publishers who produce official publications,
however, have access to government-subsidized paper, and as a matter of course
the price of their publications exceeds cost.
Controlling the availability of paper also is
an effective means of controlling writers. The distribution and sale of paper
have been the exclusive prerogative of the Ministry. Paper is a scarce and
rationed import, particularly since the destruction of Iranian paper plants
during the Iran-Iraq war. The Ministry allocates paper only for approved purposes
to selected persons or entities. All others must buy paper in the
"free" or black market at considerably higher prices. Despite the
nature of or stage at which "modifications" are requested, a book
that is ultimately released must be printed uniformly and without variations of
paper, which can add a crippling cost: paper purchased on the "free,"
black market is particularly risky, because there is no guarantee that the same
color and texture of paper as in the original can be found to implement the
changes without having to reprint the entire work.
This long and uncertain process must be
repeated with every renewed edition or print run of the book. It is not
uncommon for books that have been approved for the first, second or third
printings to be blocked at a subsequent attempt. Nor is it uncommon for books
with official permits to be banned within weeks of their release.
Even after passing all the cumbersome stages
of government approval and control, books are then subject to the
"public" test of propriety, which in fact constitutes the final stage
of censorship. While ostensibly expressing the free exchange of ideas, these
voices echo the more extreme, erratic and uncompromising factions within the
government itself, or are associated with the clerical regime, and often
translate into a government ban of previously approved books. The primary
champion of these "public" attacks is the government-owned of
government-affiliated press, each newspaper and magazine invested with its own
PUBLISHERS AND CENSORSHIP
After the revolution, the new government
seized the assets of many of the publishing houses in existence under the Shah.
A notable example is the government's expropriation of Entesharat Amir Kabir
(Amir Kabir Publications), one of the largest publishing houses prior to the
revolution, including its seven book shops and print shop. The company's
founder and owner, AbdoIrahim Jafari, was imprisoned for eleven months.
Confiscated property valued in excess of $1 million was then transferred to the
Islamic Propaganda Organization, a semi-autonomous foundation.
It is estimated that over seventy percent of
the books published in Iran
are funded by the government and state-allied foundations.
A number of foundations receive government funds and preferential paper
allotments and publish books largely in line with the thinking and propaganda
needs of the regime.
Due to their alliance with influential factions within the government, these
entities do not need to fear censorship. Private publishers by contrast, lead a
perilous existence and operate under severe financial and government
constraints. Not surprisingly, a significant number of independent publishers
go out of business.
As discussed above, the overall process of
book publishing encourages private entities, such as the publisher and printer,
to assume the role of censor to avoid the often insupportable financial
sanctions imposed by government policies. In addition to sanctions, there are
at censor and steer clear of even slightly controversial work.
First, publishers are required to renew their
permits every six months or every year. Publishers associated with
"subversive" work risk non-renewal of their permits. For this reason,
the permit of the publishing house Nashr-e Noo was not renewed in 1990. Nashr-e
Noo had published the banned publications of Saidi-Sirjani, Sima-ye Do Zan
(Portrait of Two Women) and Zahak-e Mardoosh (Zabak the Snake Man).
Second, publishers associated with
controversial work have been victims of mob violence, which is apparently
condoned by the authorities Two examples:
-The publishing house Nashr-e Nogreh was
fire-bombed on November 6, 1992
in Tehran. It had previously
published Shahrnoush Pasipour's banned book Zanan Bedoon-e Mardan (Women
without Men). The bomb, which was planted in front of the publishing house,
caused a large fire and inflicted significant damage on the facility, causing
its temporary closure.
-The publishing house Niloofar in Tehran
was bombed by a Molotov cocktail in 1992. Sources in Iran
are reluctant to offer specifics, but report that many of the books it had
published were banned previous to this incident.
Third, for publication of books deemed
"anti-revolutionary" by the government, publishers have been
prosecuted along with the writers. For example:
-Mohammad Reza Aslani, owner of the
publishing house Nashr-e Nogreh, was imprisoned, tried and acquitted with
Shahrnoush Parsipour after publication of her banned book Zanan Bedoon-e Mardan
(Women without Men) (See below).
-According to a source whose account Middle
East Watch has not been able to confirm, Sadegh Samie, the owner of the
publishing house Astan Sara, was tried with Forough Shahab for publication of
her book Se Hezar or Yek Shab (Three Thousand and One Nights). The trial was
held before the general courts in Tehran
in the summer of 1992, and they were acquitted of anti-revolutionary charges.
Under such conditions, finding a publisher
can present an unsurmountable problem for many writers. As one author told
Middle East Watch, "Some publishers stand by you and some run."
PROFILES OF BANNED WRITERS
Ali-Akbar Saidi-Sirjani, a writer, essayist
and social critic renowned in Iran,
has been a particularly outspoken critic of the Islamic Republic's censorship
policies during the past four years. Since 1989, there has been a complete ban
on seventeen of his books. In keeping with its customary practice, the
government has not issued an official banning order. The ban, nevertheless, has
been all-encompassing and financially ruinous for him, his family and his
The government's interaction with
Saidi-Sirjani has been nothing short of duplicitous. In 1989, officials of the
Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance notified him that apart from two of
his books they had no objection to his work. The Ministry had not officially
banned these two books but merely had not responded to his request for the
initial permit required for binding the second printing of Dar Astin-e
Moraqqa', pending since 1985, and the first print run of Ey Kutah Astinan,
pending since 1988.
The printed copies of Dar Astin-e Moraqqa' were subsequently confiscated and
pulped. Saidi-Sirjani, relying on the government's representations, engaged
publishers to print numerous copies of his works. But none of his work has been
released to this day.
The ban imposed on his work has been
two-pronged. For some books, the Ministry has not issued the initial permit
necessary to bind the printed copies, including the first edition, of the six-volume
Tafsir-e Soorabadi (Exegesis of the Koran by Soorabadi) submitted for approval
in 1990; the fifth edition of the two-volume Tarikh-e Bidari-ye Iranian
(History of the Awakening of Iranians) submitted in 1990; and the third
printing of the two-volume Vaqaye' Ettefaqiyy (Incidental Occurrences)
submitted in 1990. For his other books, the Ministry granted the initial permit
necessary for binding, but then did not respond to the numerous requests
pending for the second permit required to release the now printed, bound and
covered copies. These books include: the fourth edition of Sima-ye Do Zan
(Portrait of Two Women) submitted in 1989; the fifth edition of Zahhak-e
Mardoosh (Zahak the Snake Man) submitted in 1989; the first printing of
Bichareh Esfandiyar (Poor Esfandiar) submitted in 1991; and the first printing
of Tah Basat (Remaining Stock) submitted in 1990.
The financial burden resulting from the
Ministry's ban on of his work has been severe. For example, typesetting the six
volumes of Tafsir-e Soorabadi cost over 2,000,000 tomans (approximately
$11,800). The 15,000 copies of the fifth edition of Zahak-e Mardoosh cost
1,200,000 tomans (approximately $7,000) for their jacketing alone.
Some of Saidi-Sirjani's banned work has been
particularly popular in Iran.
The first four printings of Zahak-e Mardoosh, totaling 25,000 copies, sold out
in a week. The first three prints of Sima-ye Do Zan totaling 20,000 copies,
sold out in six months.
Saidi-Sirjani is one of the few people
residing in Iran
to voice criticism of government policy publicly. In the last four years, he
has written nine letters to government officials, including President
Rafsanjani, Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and members of the parliament,
inquiring about the status of his work and objecting to the censorship policies
of the government and misapplication of the law. In his customary sarcastic
style, addressing President Rafsanjani in a letter dated October 9, 1992, he asks:
If my writings have faults, why do you not
specify them and enlighten me? If however the penalty of my actions, as the
cautious writers of Keyhan claim, is severe, why do you prosecute and punish me
so that I may serve as an example for others?
The government has not responded to any of
his letters or acted on the many pending requests for the release of his books.
The hard-line newspaper Keyhan, however, responded to his letters, initially in
December 1992 in its subsidiary Keyhan-e Hava'i, which is published and
distributed exclusively abroad, and subsequently in its domestic publication.
Keyhan Hava'i stated that saidi-Sirjani knows better than anyone else the
reasons for which his work has been banned, namely that they are against Islam
and moral values. As an example of Saidi-Sirjani's anti-Islamic work, it cites
a sentence from his book Ey Kutah Astinan: "In Iran,
prior to the Arab conquest, there existed a distinct and authentic culture with
multiple and diverse facets."
A censored version of the banned Ey Kutah
Astinan appeared in bookstores sometime in late 1991. Saidi-Sirjani only became
aware of this private edition in late summer 1992. He filed a complaint with
the General Prosecutor's Office in December 1992. He filed a complaint with the
General Prosecutor's Office in December 1992 and was granted a hearing that
same month. The court has not yet ruled on his complaint, but, soon after the
hearing, all copies of the unlawful book disappeared from bookstores.
Saidi-Sirjani has also been subject to
constant vilification in the Iranian press as a submissive servant of
imperialism, an activist of the Communist Tudeh party, a panegyrist of the
Pahlavi regime, and an agent of SAVAK, the Shah's secret police.
Since the 1979 revolution, Moniroo Ravanipoor
has become a popular author celebrated for her unique folkloric style and
distinguished by her focus on issues facing women; in an almost parallel
progression, she has been the object of increasing vilification by the
state-affiliated media. And with her voice no longer confined to restricted
circles, the government has subjected her work to increased scrutiny and
censorship--including work which had previously met government requirements.
The momentum of criticism and attack in the
government-affiliated press started with her very popular collection of short
stories, Sanghay Sheytan (Devil's Stones). Typical was an attack appearing in
Keyhan newspaper, titled "Tohin be Shahidan va Fesad Akhlagi" (Ins8lt
to Martyrs and Corruption of Mores). Sanghay Sheytan had been a great success,
with 10,000 copies of its first two printings selling out in a week. A third
printing of the book was banned by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance
Following this incident, her book Kanizoo was
banned at its third printing in December 1991. The Ministry required
modification of a number of sections of the book. After twenty months of
negotiated modifications, the book entered its third edition in 1993.
Ravanipoor's difficulties with censorship
extend beyond these two books, however. In a recent interview with the magazine
Gardoon, in response to the question "What portion of the work you have
produced has to been published?" she stated: "One half of my
work." In at
least one instance, the publication of her work was affected indirectly by the
Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance: the appearance of her book Del Foolad
(Steel Heart) was delayed when the Ministry canceled the operating permit of
its publisher, Shirazi.
In the same interview, the author questioned
government policies on speech, stating that "the writer is the creator of
his or her own work... In my view, no one has the right to give an opinion and
then ask that a position [taken by an author] be amended before issuing a
She also alluded to officials' inability to tell
realistic fiction from an author's fancy. Recalling a conversation with a
Ministry official after she had submitted her manuscript of Del Foolad for
approval, she stated:
[He] told me, "After all, a single woman
would never go and live in a house where a [young man] is living." Well,
this is being misinformed. When someone in power doesn't know how many
thousands of women flee to Tehran
-- what can one do? It is not only a question of differences of opinion and
taste; lack of awareness and naivete are also involved.
Noting the strength of tradition in Iran,
Ravanipoor concluded the interview commenting on the constraints limiting women
Breaking tradition is not an easy matter.
When you want to break with some of the wrong traditions, your must be able to
withstand flogging [public persecution]. I in effect have broken with
traditions... A woman in order to
exist must break with tradition... You wish to say look I have thoughts, I have
things to say, I am a human being, I am not in a harem.
Ravanipoor's latest book, Siria Siria, was
published in 1993.
Shahrnoush Parsipour, a novelist of much
acclaim, was twice imprisoned for her book Zanan Beoun-e Mardan (Women Without
Men), following vehement attacks against the book in the state-affiliated
media. All her work, including her earlier best-selling novel Taouba va
Ma'nay-e Shab (Touba and the Meaning of Night), was banned. After a lapse of
two years, she was tried and acquitted. But the bombing of her publisher's
facilities after the trial, and the continued ban on her work, are grim
reminders of the limited protection of judicial processes.
In June 1990, Parsipour published Zanan
Bedoun-e Mardan, a collection of interconnected short stories written in Tehran
and Paris prior to the revolution.
The book presents a critical assessment of the role of women in society. It had
undergone revisions required by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance
and been granted a permit for publication. Five thousand copies of the book
sold out within weeks. A series of attacks ensued in the state-affiliated
press, notably in Bayan and Sureh
magazines and Keyhan newspaper. In customary fashion, these attacks aimed at
the person of the author, at writers, literature and publishers in general, and
at the Ministry for allegedly undermining social mores and corrupting values.
In August 1990, Parsipour and her publisher,
Mohammad-Reza Aslani from the Nashr Nogreh publishing house, were summoned to
the Anti-Vice Department of the Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office for
interrogation. They were then imprisoned for five weeks without charge or
trial, after which Parsipour was released on bail. Their file was transferred
to the General Prosecutor's Office, and trial was set for February 1992.
Two officials of the Ministry responsible for
reviewing her book and issuing the permit for publication were set for trial
along with Parsipour and Aslani. The charges against Parsipour involved Zanan
Bedoun-e Mardan and, in addition, her novel Sagh va Zemestan Boland (Dog and a
Long Winter), which was also printed in June 1990 but had not been granted the
permit necessary for its release.
The February 1992 trial date was postponed.
In March, Parsipour presented herself to the general Prosecutor's Office and
requested that her bail be lifted; she asked that the family property posted as
bail for her be released. In return for releasing the property, Parsipour was
imprisoned for one month. She reportedly was beaten in prison during this time.
Bail was again posted, this time money offered by a fiend, and she was released
The trial ultimately took place in the summer
of 1992 in the general courts, at a time when Parsipour was outside the
court acquitted all the parties involved, finding that none of Parsipour's
books contained anti-revolutionary material.
Since her 1990 arrest, however, the
publication of all her books has been effectively banned, including her 1989
novel Touba va Ma'nay-e Sahb. The novel had been a national best seller: three
printings totaling 22,000 copies sold out in six months.
Although no official order has been issued
banning Parsipour's work, publishers are unwilling to assume the risks that
publishing the work entails. The Ministry also "advises" publishers against
such ventures. In fact, the publication of her fourth work Agl Aby (Blue
Reason) was indefinitely interrupted in 1990 by the publisher after the events
that followed publication of Zanan Bedoun-e Mardan. The bombing of Nashr-e
Nogreh publishing house in November 1992, described above, is a reminder of the
uncertainty that surrounds her work even after the trial. At present, no copies
of her books appear in bookstores, although pirated photocopies of her work are
popular items in the black market at inflated prices.
Parsipour had experienced prosecution before
these recent events. She was arrested in the early revolutionary period in
1981, imprisoned until 1986 and released without any official charges brought
against her. She also has a history of imprisonment under the Shah: in the
spring of 1974, she resigned from her position in state-owned television to
protest the execution of the poet and journalist Khosrow Golesorkhi and his
colleague Keramatollah Daneshian. She was arrested in the fall of that year and
imprisoned for a period of fifty-four days, then released without being charged
or tried for any offence.
THE FATWA AGAINST SALMAN RUSHDIE AND ITS
EXTENSION TO IRANIANS
I inform the proud Muslim people of the world
that the author of The Satanic Verses book which is against Islam, the Prophet
and the Koran, and all involved in its publication who were aware of its
content, are sentenced to death. . . . [Anyone who dies in the cause of ridding
the world of Salman Rushdie] will be regarded as a martyr and go directly to
With Ayatollah Khomeini's religious edict
(fatwa in Arabic), the battle over freedom of expression crossed the Iranian
border to threaten the citizen of another country and, by extension, anyone
involved with his novel. The edict infringes on free expression under Article
19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran
is a signatory. Article 19 protects "the freedom to impart information and
ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers" and to do so "in
writing" and "in the form of art." The covenant protects even
expression that deeply offends or angers, as in the case of The Satanic Verses.
It has been argued by some that the fatwa was
an individual pronouncement, and thus protected speech itself.
But no government or individual has a protected right under Article 19 or
Article 20 (concerning incitement to violence) to issue a death threat aimed at
Ayatollah Khomeini's religious edict was born
of peculiarly political circumstances. The fatwa came only after the book was
banned in India,
South Africa, Bangladesh,
Lanka and Pakistan,
and after violent protests against the book had erupted in India,
Pakistan and Britain.
It significantly followed a cease-fire that ended the eight-year Iran-Iraq war,
at a time when calls for moderation by the then-Speaker of the Parliament
Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Ali Khamenei and successor-designate as
Supreme Religious Leader, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri,
were gaining ground, It is telling that Rushdie has been accused not only of
apostasy but also of advancing the "Western plot" against Islam and
the underdeveloped world, a central theme of the more radical factions in Iran.
The debate over who was more revolutionary and who more Islamic gained renewed
vitality with Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa, a process that favored the radical
For several years after the fatwa was issued,
Western governments remained largely silent or selectively vocal, using the
fatwa as a bargaining chip in their relations with Iran.
Recently, however, due to persistent pressure from human rights and
international freedom of expression organizations, a number of Western
countries, including Britain,
the United States,
and the Nordic countries, have adopted official positions condemning the fatwa.
Notable instances include the official statements issued by the British and the
governments. On February 2, 1993,
U.K. Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd stated that Iran's
failure to repudiate the fatwa and the bounty "inevitably prevents the
establishment of full and friendly relations between Britain
and Iran." On
February 11, U.S. President Clinton's then-Communications Secretary, George
We unequivocally condemn the fatwa. We do not
believe this is a private matter between Mr. Rushdie and Iran.
We do not believe that people should be killed for writing books. We regard the
fatwa as a violation of Mr. Rushdie's basic human rights, and therefore as a
violation of international law.
9, 1993 at the Tokyo
summit meeting of the Members of the Group of Seven, the U.S.
and U.K. once
again voiced their concerns over the fatwa. In their Political Declaration, the
Group of Seven stated, "Concerned about aspects of Iran's
behavior, we call upon its government to participate constructively in
international efforts for peace and stability and to cease actions contrary to
The United Nations has also made headway on
the issue of the fatwa. On March 10,
1993 the United Nations Human Rights Commission adopted a
strongly-worded resolution condemning Iran's
abuse of human rights, with special reference to the right of freedom of
expression, and decided to extend the mandate of the special representative for
a further year."
The Commission reaffirmed that "[g]overnments are accountable for
assassinations and attacks by their agents against persons on the territory of
another State, as well as for the incitement, approval or wilful condoning of
In specific reference to Salman Rushdie, the Commission expressed its grave
concern that "there are continuing threats to the life of a citizen of
another State which have the support of the Government of the Islamic Republic
of Iran and whose case is mentioned in the report of the Special
The regime in Tehran,
for its part, has issued contradictory and ambiguous pronouncements on the
significance and implications of the fatwa. In February 1989, then-President
Ali Khamenei suggested that if Salman Rushdie "repents" and
apologizes to Muslims, "it is possible that the people may pardon
Khamenei was admonished, and Rushdie's apology rejected, by Ayatollah Khomeini.
In February 1990, President Rafsanjani attempted to diminish the importance of,
and distance the government from, the fatwa by stating that it was merely
"an opinion of a religious jurisprudence expert."
The day after this statement, the Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Mohammad
Yazdi, with the confirmation of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, now the Supreme
Religious Leader, stated: "Through a legal and judicial eye we announce
explicitly that this verdict is a binding and irrevocable one and not a
religious judgment alone."
Recently, in an attempt once again to distance the Iranian government from the
death threat, Ali-Akbar Nateq Nuri, the speaker of the Iranian parliament,
state: "We have not and will not send out mercenaries to kill the infidel
[Salman Rushdie], Since this is not out policy."
Several government officials have also attempted to draw a distinction between
the government and the Fifteenth of Khordad Foundation, declaring it to be an
independent organization over which they did not have control.
In reality, it is not possible to draw a line
of separation between the Iranian government and Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa. In
a system of governance based on velayat-e faqih, there is no authority superior
to that of the supreme religious leader. Since February 1989, the fatwa has
been reaffirmed by the new Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
President Rafsanjani, Head of the Judiciary Ayatollah Yazdi, and members of the
parliament. On February 17, 1993,
for example, two-thirds of the Majlis, endorsed the death sentence against
Rushdie. The $1 million reward offered on February 15, 1989 by Hojatoleslam Hassan Sane'i, an
influential Iranian cleric at the head of the semi autonomous Fifteenth of Khordad
Foundation and former aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, to anyone who kills Salman
Rushdie has been twice increased -- in March 1991 to $2 million and in February
1993 by an unspecified amount. In sum the Iranian government is responsible for
Ayatollah Khomeini's death threat has had
real and tragic implications for the persons targeted. Since the issuance of
the fatwa, Rushdie has been forced to go into hiding and live under police
protection. Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses,
was stabbed to death in July 1991 by an unknown assailant who evaded capture.
In the same month, Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator of the book, was
stabbed and injured, and also has been forced to live under police protection.
Around the world, numerous bookstores carrying the book have been bombed and
its publishers threatened.
The most recent target of the fatwa is Aziz
Nesin, an internationally-known Turkish humorist and chairman of The Writer's
Union of Turkey. On February 3, 1993,
Nesin announced that he was going to have The Stannic Verses translated and
published in Turkey.
The novel has been banned in Turkey
since 1989. On February 4, an article in the Iranian daily Jomhouri-ye Islami,
affiliated with the Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, extended the
fatwa to Nesin and stated: "He no longer has a place among Muslims and
should like Rushdie, be killed."
Hojatoleslam Hassan Sane'i urged Nesin to reconsider his decision in light of
the death sentence on Rushdie, or else bear the consequences of his action.
Most recently, on July 15, 1993,
the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance banned all Nesin's works in Iran
and ordered removal of his books from bookstores.
The Iranian government often justifies the
fatwas by referring to the death and injury of numerous Muslims in India
and Pakistan in
protesting The Satanic Verses.
In no instance, however, can a death threat be justified. Furthermore, neither
the author nor the Satanic Verses is the cause of these deaths or injuries;
they resulted from clashes with security forces.
Article 19, in fact, protects all person's right to peaceful protest.
Similarly, all violations of the right to peaceful protest must be uniformly
Many have spoken against the fatwa. But the
uniquely severe reaction of the Iranian government to the declaration of a
group of exiled Iranian intellectuals, artists and professionals against the
fatwa and its immediate implications for these individuals (see below) are a
reminder of the common threads that bind Salman Rushdie's fate to that of
Iranians inside and outside Iran.
They are all victims of the same brand of intolerance. The Rushdie affair also
highlights the lack of centralized authority and uncertainty that plagues the
day-to-day existence of the Iranian intellectual and artistic community.
DECLARTION OF IRANIANS IN EXILE CONDEMNING
On the third anniversary of Ayatollah
Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie et. al., in March 1992, a group of
fifty Iranians in exile condemned the fatwa. Calling the religious edict
"inhuman" and freedom of speech "one of the most precious
achievements of mankind," the declaration adds: "[A]s Voltaire
remarked, this freedom would be meaningless unless individuals had the right to
blaspheme." It also takes note of "the merciless pressure of
religious censorship" that exists inside Iran.
This was the first time that Iranians collectively had lent their names to a
condemnation of the fatwa as an abrogation of the right to freedom of
The signatories have since been subjected to
intense vilification in the Iranian press for being instruments of Western
culture and interests, enemies of Islam and the Islamic Revolution, monarchists
and imperialist lackeys. The work of fifty original signatories has been
effectively banned in Iran
by pronouncement of a senior cleric, and the terms of the original fatwa
extended to them by the official news organ of Supreme Religious Leader
The vilification campaign against the fifty
signatories was led by the government-owned newspapers Keyhan and Keyhan
Hava'i, the daily Jomhouri-ye Islami, affiliated with Supreme Religious Leader
Ayatollah Khamenei, and the daily Salam, published by the Tehran Combatant
Clergy Association (breakaway group). As is customary, in the process,
government authorities were accused of inaction, until factional pressure
culminated in a rare written order from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic
Guidance banning the works of two of the signatories. This was the sequence of
-On April 15, 1992, Keyhan Hava'i stated: "It appears
that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must in an official manner
prevent the publication in the domestic press of the works of these individuals
because of their support for Salman Rushdie; in view of the existing laws, this
is a request that is both possible and legal."
8, 1992, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a member of the Council of
Guardians, announced in his Friday sermon that the work of all fifty
signatories was banned in Iran.
27, 1992, Jomhouri-ye Islami, the news organ associated with
Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, published the names of the
signatories and portions of the declaration. It further stated that Ayatollah
Khomeini's fatwa henceforth would apply to the group of exiled Iranians, by
virtue of their support for Salman Rushdie, as well as all who publish their
-An editorial in the June 1992 issue of
Keyhan, after alluding to the Western backing and support afforded Rushdie but
not to the Iranians who signed the declaration, asked the signatories
rhetorically: "In this case, would it not have been better if you would
not have been so foolish and at least would not have put your own lives in
-In November 1992, the Ministry of Culture
and Islamic Guidance issued a rare written order banning specifically the work
of two of the signatories to the declaration: poets Nader Naderpour
and Esmail Khoei. The order cited their support of Salman Rushdie as reason for
the ban and relied on Article 6(9) of the Press Law.
Despite these measures, for the fourth
anniversary of the fatwa, on February
17, 1993, the number of Iranians in exile signing the declaration
increased to 162. In March, the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office
notified all publishers in Iran
that serious consequences would follow from publishing the work of any of the
writers now signatories to the declaration. This amounts to a ban on the works
of all of them. These people's courage deserves international recognition and
In the past decade, despite a significant
degree of official control and censorship, Iranian films and directors have
been prominently featured at international film festivals and celebrated for
their sophisticated style and humanistic portrayals. This decade has also
witnessed the emergence of the first generation of female professional film
producers -- six in all -- in the industry's sixty-year history. The stories
lost in the midst of such achievements, however, are those of refused scripts,
storerooms of banned films and censorship. Also lost is the plight of film
directors, casts and crews who continue to work and produce in spite of such
During the first five years after the
revolution, the Iranian film industry ground to a halt. Through the
revolutionary period, films and movie theaters were targeted as being the
embodiment of corrupt Western values. A number of cinemas were destroyed
most notably the Rex Cinema of Abadan, which was burned down in September 1978
at a cost of over 400 lives. However, in a country nearly fifty percent
illiterate, officials soon recognized the propaganda potential of film. Despite
the Koran's ban on images, the much-quoted edict by Ayatollah Khomeini,
"We are not against cinema, we are against prostitution,"
signaled a new official policy on film, however ambiguous its mandate.
In 1983, the Farabi Cinema Foundation, a
semi-autonomous entity, was created with the assistance of the government. The
successes of the Iranian film industry are, in part, due to the persistent
efforts of Farabi to enter the international market; the government has given
it exclusive control over the import and export of film. Farabi provides
assistance to filmmakers through loans, subsidies, studio facilities and
"advice" in passing the various stages of censorship. Recognition of
Iranian films at international festivals has created a false -- and for the
government, convenient -- impression about the apparently broad limits of
freedom in Iran, and to this extent has provided little benefit to the film
directors, actors and actresses whose travails in making the films are too
In addition to Farabi, a number of other
semi-autonomous foundations are also significant players in the film industry.
Foremost is Bonyad Mostazafin (Foundation of the Dispossessed), one of the
largest and most conservative. Kanun Parvaresh-e Fekri Kudakan va Nojavanan
(Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults) and
Hozehi Honari Sazman Tablighat Islami (Art
Center for the Islamic Propagation
Organization) are also noteworthy participants in the film industry.
In the past few years, approximately sixty
films have been produced annually.
It is estimated that sixty to seventy percent of films produced are
government-made, either directly or through the network of semi-autonomous
foundations. A significant portion of films produced are propaganda vehicles
that call young men to the war front, extol the virtues of the Islamic dress
code for women and promote the revolution and Islamic government.
Films have much greater popularity than the
print media in Iran:
it is estimated that annual cinema admission is seventy-five million in a
country of some sixty million people.
In fact, in response to the acute shortage of movie houses, the Minister of
Islamic Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Larijani announced on March 13, 1993 that, after the
Iranian New Year in March, mosques could apply for permits to show films.
The government hopes to temper the public's interest in uncontrollable videos
and satellite communications by increasing access to the more controllable
medium of movie theaters (see also Chapter 5 on satellites). In December 1992,
Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Khamenei encouraged the production of
Islamic films and stated:
The enemy carries out its cultural onslaught
against the Islamic Republic of Iran in an organized way. If our response is
not organized, the danger of the enemy's onslaught increases. Therefore, this
issue must be addressed seriously and all the competent bodies must cooperate
and use various methods to neutralize the cultural onslaught of the enemy.
Mosques and films thus have become allies in
a crusade to propagate Islam.
Video cassette recorders (VCRs) are regarded
by the government as crucial instruments of the foreign cultural onslaught and,
for this reason, are illegal. Nonetheless, one report in 1993 estimated the
number of VCRs in Iran
at 2,500,000 as compared to 5,250,000 television sets.
Unable to counter the spread of videos in the black market, the government is
apparently reviewing its policy and may move toward legalizing videos. In his
March 13 announcement, Culture Minister Larijani stated that the sale, rental
or copying of videotapes required a license from the Ministry's film review
committee, thereby suggesting that videos may become legal.
Yet, on May 30, 1993, in a
contradictory statement, the Head of the Judiciary Ayatollah Yazdi announced
that "distributors of decadent videos and indecent clothing, offensive to
will be given the death sentence.
Foreign films once again have found their way
Driving Miss Daisy and Dances with Wolves are examples of Western films shown
in the past year, while a large portion of foreign films are from Japan,
Eastern European countries. Censorship standards applied to foreign films arte
necessarily less stringent. Women, for example, are shown without the Islamic
head cover. Where possible, however, "inappropriate" scenes are cut.
The Iranian government has been particularly
sensitive to foreign films that depict Iran
in an "unfavorable" light, and it exerts pressure where it can to ban
their showing abroad. Two examples:
-In early June 1990, parts of Naked Gun, a
film made in the United States
which alluded to Ayatollah Khomeini, were censored in Turkey
due to the Turkish government's concern about damaging relations with Iran.
After an official protest by the Iranian government, police barred showings of
the film in theaters in Ankara and Istanbul.
Theater owners were warned by police that their cinemas would be closed down if
they continued to feature the film because then-President Ozal did not wish it
to be shown. At the
end of June, the company distributing Naked Gun announced it would withdraw the
film because "No other work received so much pressure. For us no film is
worth risking your life."
On July 30, 1990, the film
was officially banned by the Turkish government.
-In January 1992, the broadcast of the film
Veiled Threat on Turkish Radio Television led the Iranian government and press
to criticize the Turkish government harshly. Veiled Threat, directed by Cyrus
Nowrasteh, an American of Iranian origin, is about a CIA agent attempting to
help an Iranian family escape from the country after the revolution. The
Turkish ambassador to Iran
was summoned by the Foreign Ministry to hear the strong protests of the Iranian
government a week after the showing of the film.
The following section first sets out the
government procedures that govern the censorship and production of film. It
then assesses the range of restricted topics and the misleading impression left
by Iranians' participation in international film festivals, with reference to
specific censored films. The section concludes with profiles of two film
directors, Bahram Beizai and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, whose films have been banned
and censored by the government.
THE CENSORSHIP PROCESS
Regulations issued by the Ministry of Culture
and Islamic Guidance govern the various stages of film production (see Chapter
1). Film production involves four separate stages of censorship and control by
the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The permit obtained after passing
these tortuous stages, however, provide no guarantee or protection to the film,
its direct, cast o crew.
In the first instance, a film director is
required to submit a short sketch, a an outline, to the Ministry's Council of
Screenplay Inspection for approval. Once the sketch has been approved, the
director is required to submit a working version of the screenplay to the
Council for Issuing Production Permit for a subsequent approval.
In the second stage, the film producer must submit
a complete list of the proposed members of the cast and crew. Many of the
directors, scriptwriters, actors and actresses associated with the previous
regime or otherwise out of favor have been denied work permits. Even once
approved, the cast and crew are supervised closely by representatives of the
Ministry present at the production site.
In the third stage, the completed film is
submitted for review and approval to the Ministry's Council of Film Reviewing.
The reviewing council has the authority to accept, reject or require
modification of the film. While filmmakers may seek a review of the council's
determination by the Ministry's High Council of Deputies, they run the risk of
another adverse ruling which is final. As a result, they often opt to negotiate
with the lower reviewing council. The modifications requested by the Council of
Film Reviewing are not given in writing -- and, instead, are dictated to the
directors. As is customary, required modifications are framed as
"suggestions" by the Ministry.
In the final stage, the Ministry accords one
of four grades (A, B, C or D) to the film This grading is based largely on an
assessment of what is aesthetically valid and ideologically correct rather than
on any objective quality standard. The grade determines access to media for
promotion purposes, quality of exposure (e.g. type of theater) and ticket
price. Grade A films are screened at the best cinemas in major cities for at
least two weeks; the price of the ticket is relatively high, and state radio and
television promote the film. Grade D films are confined to smaller cities,
prohibited from advertising, and charge cheaper admission, thus obviously
generating less return for their creators.
Since 1989, the Ministry no longer requires
script approval for a select group of film directors, those whose last film was
given an A rating. This does not mean lesser control over the final product,
however, for censorship can -- and does -- occur at later stages, when its
effects are more expensive for the filmmaker. Film directors whose last film
was given a B rating arte still required to submit their screenplays but not
their sketches for approval; and, finally, film directors whose last film was
given a C or D rating are required to secure approval for both outline and
The ultimate test of the fate of a film and
its director is the "public's" reaction after its screening. Even
after securing final official approval, the film may be blocked at a later
time, especially in response to criticism from the government-affiliated press.
The regulations governing evaluation and
approval of film content -- set out in Chapter 1 -- have had a far-reaching
impact on work dealing with contemporary and social issues. The following films
serve as examples:
-Amir Naderi's Jostejouy Yek (Search One) was
banned from 1980 to 1991. In 1991, it was shown on Iranian state-controlled
television after the time-line of the events was dated to the pre-revolutionary
period, although its content clearly portrayed a landmark of the revolution,
form September 1978, known as Black Friday.
-Barbod Taheri's Soqut-e'57 (Fall of '57), a
documentary film about the revolution, was banned in 1984; its renewed
screening was made contingent on removing footage that showed broad
participation in the revolution by secular and leftist groups, armed forces
attacks on demonstrators, and even Ayatollah Khomeini's first speech delivered
in Tehran's cemetery, in which he condemned the Shah for making cemeteries
-Masud Kimiai's Khateh Ghermez (Red Line) was
made in 1980 and has been banned since its first and only screening at the
First Fajr Festival in February 1983. The film portrays the marriage of a
former SAVAK agent and a medical student at the time of the revolution.
Although it was once amended according to the instructions of the censorship
board, it continued to be banned because it linked the origins of the
revolution to secular intellectual movements and no only to religious ones.
-Dariush Mehrjui's Madrese-ye Ke Merafteem
(The School We Used to Go To) was banned from 1980 to 1989, apparently because
the time period of the film was uncertain.
This, despite the fact that one scene in the film focuses on a newspaper
clipping that is dated back to the Shah's regime. It was screened for the first
time at the Seventh Fajr Film Festival in 1989, only after it was modified.
-Mehrjui's Banu has been banned since its
completion in 1991. The film tells the story of a woman who helps and takes
into her home a number of deprived persons, only to have them later turn on her
and try to evict her from her house. The film was perceived by the government
to have contemporary political connotations.
The regulations are invoked on a wide range
of topics. But the Iran-Iraq war holds a unique place. While propaganda films
about the war abound, critical assessments of the war generally are not
tolerated. The following films were banned for being anti-war:
-Naderi's Jostejouy Dow (Search Two) has been
banned since 1981; it deals with the soldiers missing in action in the
-Bahram Beizai's Bashu, Garibeh-ye Kuchak
(Bashu the Little Stranger) was banned from 1986 to 1989. The film follows the
trail of a child orphaned by the war who makes his way from the south to the
north where he finds refuge as a result of a village woman's singular and
determined struggles to protect him.
Discussion of Iran's
pre-Islamic history and conversion to Islam also are not encouraged. One of the
reasons for banning Bahram Beizai's Margh Yazdegerd (Death of Yazdegerd) since
its completion in 1981 was its particularly sensitive subject matter. It
pertains to the death of the last Persian king before the Arab conquest and
conversion of Iran
to Islam in the seventh century.
The restrictions also have led to significant
distortions in the presentation of women on the one hand, and love
relationships and family life on the other. Women are required to comply fully
with the Islamic dress codes which include covering all hair and wearing
clothing that obscures all body curves. Singing or dancing by women is strictly
prohibited. Eye or body contact between the sexes is not encouraged. A woman's
role is preferably a virtuous and family-oriented one. Thus, the portrayal of
intimate relationships presents a real challenge to film directors. In Raksan
Bani-Etemad's Nagess, in order to communicate the love of a newlywed couple,
the camera could not enter their bedroom but instead focused on two pairs of
shoes lined up next to each other at the door. In Bani-Etemad's Kharej as
Mahdudeh (Off Limits), the leading female protagonist is shown in bed fully
dressed and alone, although married Among the criticisms leveled at Mohsen
Makmalbaf's banned film Nobat-e Asheghi (Time for Love) was that it depicted
Although in the past couple of years there
has been a relative relaxation on the stereotypical happy ending, it still
remains a persistent feature of Iranian films. Unhappy ending are condemned for
having negative repercussions and undermining the revolutionary spirit.
Mehrjui's Hamoon and Ejareh Neshinan (Tenants), and Kimiai's Goruban (Sergeant)
are examples of films whose endings needed to be modified before they could be
screened. Such modifications necessarily result in distortion of the story
Despite these impediments, an increasing
number of socially critical and insightful films has been produced and
screened, for example: Makhmalbaf's Arousi-e Khouban (Marriage of the Blessed),
Mehrjui's Hamoon, and Majid Majidi's Badook. The use of music and traditional
dances by men has also gained currency.
INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALS AND CENSORED
February 1993 marked the eleventh anniversary
of the annual international Fajr Film Festival, held in Tehran
and organized by the Farabi Cinema Foundation. In past years this event has
attracted large numbers of foreigners to Tehran
to witness newly-released Iranian films. Included in the list of visitors are a
select group of guests who are the organizers of international film festivals.
This past February, however, invitations issued to Western directors of
international film festivals were canceled. For many observers, this
represented the effects of the more restrictive policies taking hold since the
1992 resignation of former Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad
Iranian films shown abroad must obtain a
special permit from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The following
are examples of films recently shown at international film festivals which have
been previously censored in Iran.
-Bahram Beizai's Bashu was banned from 1986
to 1989. It received the First Prize at the Festival of "Art et
Essai" Films for Children in Aubervilliers
-Amir Naderi's Ab, Bad, Khak (Water, Wind, Dust)
was banned from 1985 to 1989. It received the Grand Prix at the Fukuoka Asian
Film Festival in 1991; the Bronze Prize at the Damascus Festival in 1991; First
Prize at the Derde Festival in Bruges
in 1990; and the Grand Prix at the Festival des Trois Continents in Nantes
-Said Ebrahimifar's Nar-o-Nay (Pomegranate
and Cane) was banned for two years from 1987-1989.
It received three awards at the 1989 Fajr Festival. It also received the Golden
Tulip at the Istanbul Festival in 1990; and the Promotion Prize for
Intercultural Dialogue at the Mannheim Film Days in 1989.
-Masud Kimiai's 1990 film Dandan Mar (Snake's
Fang) was shortened under pressure from the censorship board.
It received the Special Jury Mention at Berlin Festival in 1991.
Similarly, many of the film directors invited
to international festivals have been targets of the government's censorship
policies, with the result that many of their films have been banned or revised.
Noteworthy in this group are: Amir Nader, Massud Kimiai, Bahram Beizai, Mohsen
Makhmalbaf and Dariush Mehrjui. All but Naderi live and produce their films in Iran.
A conscious double standard is used to create
a positive image of Iran
abroad which is at odds with standards prevailing inside the country. For
example, photographs of Susan Taslimi, who plays the main character Nai in the
film Bashu, were prohibited on publicity posters inside Iran.
Yet the entire series of Iranian films screened at New
Center in November 1992 was
introduced with the picture of Nai on festival posters and guide.
This same picture was used to promote the screening of Bashu at movie theaters
in Rome in August 1991. Images of
women for promotional purposes are a matter of much controversy in Iran,
particularly in the case of Taslimi, who has been criticized for her
nontraditional and central female roles.
On occasion, different versions of a film
have been prepared for domestic and foreign use. The version of Rakhshan
Bani-Etemad's film Nargess screened in Iran
ends with a chorus of voices, while the version screened abroad ends with the
solo singing of a woman, which is prohibited in Iran.
Similarly, the most recent film by Ibrahim Hatem Kia, Az Karkheh Ta Rayn (From
Karkheh to the Rhine), which portrays the treatment of chemical weapon victims
from the Iran-Iraq war in Germany, appears in two versions: one shot for
domestic consumption with women wearing the Islamic headdress and the other for
international use with women wearing wigs.
TWO BANNED FILM DIRECTORS
The works of Bahram Beizai, one of Iran's
best-known film directors, has been frequent targets of censorship, and he has
been particularly vocal in criticizing censorship policies. His work often has
come under attack for the central role given to women in his films, and for
their traditional Persian themes. The fate of his most recent film Mosaferan
(Travelers) shows the intricacy of government censorship, a mixture of
government-imposed financial constraints and self-censorship.
Mosaferan portrays the transformation of a
marriage ceremony into a funeral procession through a string of unfortunate
events, notably a tragic car accident. Since his last film had been given an A
ranking, he bypassed the script approval stage and presented his finished film
to the included adding the Koran to the funeral procession and deleting some of
the joyful marriage scenes, especially those involving young women. Beizai
objected to the requested modifications, stating that they were not workable
without destroying the overall structure and content of the film. He later
asked rhetorically in a publicly released letter to the Ministry, "Is it
illegal to be happy?"
After a period of negotiations, the Council
acquiesced to a shorter list of modifications with which Beizai complied, and a
permit was issued to the film in August 1991. Mosaferan was screened for the
first time at the Tenth Fajr Festival in February 1992 and given an award by
the Ministry. The Ministry set the date for the public screening of the film to
In June 1992, however, a representative from
the Ministry contacted Beizai and asked him to request a postponement o the
screening of Mosaferan to the winter schedule, since the javv was unstable,
stating that "the motorcycle riders are in the street."
The winter schedule would have resulted in significantly reduced revenue and
exposure. Beizai refused to request a postponement. In a November 1992 letter
to the Ministry,
he later wrote:
What does it mean that every day you read out
a list of modifications, without any official order, so that no official
document is involved, and require that we write it down by hand without any
questions and then pursuant to that take things out of the film with our own
Having previously issued an approval permit
and even given an award to the film, the Ministry once again required extensive
modification of Mosaferan. Beizai's to the Ministry complained of its
censorship policies, the unreliability of laws and institutionalized
self.-censorship. He wrote:
Instead of supporting us against this
purported exterior javv, you have risen in support of it and have required that
I implement five new deletions which amount in fact to many times more than
. . . . If it is the Keyhan supporters, the
writers of the magazine Sureh,
and motorcycle riders who determine the faith of our films, then why do we
submit our films to you?
. . . . This javv is make-believe and false.
With this letter, Beizai returned the award given
to him at the Tenth Fajr Festival and forbade the screening of his film abroad.
Mosaferan was canceled at its scheduled screening at the November 1992
"Iranian Film Series" of The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New
Nonetheless, the film's censored version was
screened in Tehran in February 1993
and during the winter schedule as desired by the Ministry. In view of the heavy
costs that would have resulted from not showing the film, the three producers
who had worked with Beizai arranged for the alteration and screening of the
film in compliance with the Ministry's demands. Beizai, nevertheless, was left
with a debt of 5.5 million tomans (approximately $ 32,000) after four years of
work on Mosaferan.
Beizai's internationally acclaimed Bashu,
Garibeh-ye Kuchak (Bashu the Little Stranger) was banned for three years, from
1986 to 1989, for being anti-war. His film Shayad Vagthy Degar (Maybe Some
Other Time), released in 1992, was censored. Two of his other films, Cherikheh
Tara (Ballad of Tara) and Margh Yazdegerd (Death of Yazdgerd), have been banned
since 1979 and 1981, respectively, because women appear in them without head
coverings, the strong central role of the female characters and the prominence
of Persian themes.
Since 1980, his request to get a permit to work in theater has been denied for
Beizai was not allowed to leave the country
in September 1992 to attend the Toronto International Film Festival where his
film Bashu was being screened.
Control and censorship are not the lot of the
secular intellectuals alone. Mohsen Makmalbaf, who entered the film industry
since the revolution with a history of imprisonment under the Shah and strong
hezbollahi convictions, has had two of his recent films banned and a third
censored. So uncompromising are the Islamic pressure groups that they have also
aimed to impede and silence the work of this "insider" who has
departed from their narrow definitions of acceptable conduct. The scenario is
by now a familiar one. A litany of criticism populates the pages of the
state-controlled media, an atmosphere of "public" outrage is
fabricated and eventually pre-approved works are officially banned. At the core
of these confrontations is a struggle of different factions for power.
Makhmalbaf's earlier works were hailed by the
hezbollahi as a prime embodiment of revolutionary values by a truly Islamic
film director. They included such films as Tobeh Nosooh (Nosooh's Repentance)
in 1982, Do Cheshm Be Soo (Two Sightless Eyes) in 1983, Este-azeh (Seeking
Sanctuary) in 1984, and Bycott (Boycott) in 1985. In later years, however, his
work became increasingly realistic and socially critical.
By virtue of his established Islamic
credentials, he was initially afforded liberties in his films that others with
more secular leanings were flatly denied. But hard-liners' criticism mounted as
he presented vivid and critical portrayals of the effects of abject poverty,
and the disillusionment of soldiers with the Iran-Iraq war in his three
subsequent films: Dastforoush (Peddler) in 1987, Arusi-e Khuban (Marriage of
the Blessed) in 1989, and Baysikel Ran (Cyclist) in 1989. Baysikel Ran received
the First Prize at the Rimini Cinema Festival in 1989. By then, however,
Makhmalbaf was no longer granted any degree of immunity by the hard-line
Two of his later films -- Nobat-e Asheghi
(Time for Love) in 1990 and Shabhayeh Zayandeh Roud (Nights of Zayandeh Roud)
in 1991 -- came under extreme attack after their showing in 1991 at the Ninth Fajr
Film Festival in Tehran. They were
attacked for depicting physical or human love, and for undermining the values
of the Islamic Revolution. Once again, Keyhan was in the lead in assaulting the
character of the filmmaker, and the policies of the Ministry in particular, and
the government in general. Resalat, Jomhouri-ye Islami- Abrar and to a lesser
extent Ettela'at were also active in this campaign. Government officials, such
as Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a member of the Council of Guardians, and Ali Akbar
Nateq Nuri, speaker of the Majlis, also joined the chorus of discontent. The
fact that Makhmalbaf has shaved his beard was also criticized by the press as
signaling his break with the hezbollahi. The ringing reprise in the newspapers
was: What has become of our Makhmalbaf?
In March 1991, in an open letter addressed to
the media in response to their brutal "public prosecution" of him and
his work, Makhmalbaf concluded with the following comment:
The writer of these columns knows well that
these arguments have nothing to do with him. The fight is over nothing other
than the struggles between the different factions who seek power.
The person who has more might is right. It is
clear from now who the loser in this dispute is. Very well, congratulations.
Who is the next person?
Not all intellectuals, artists and government
officials remained silent in this affair, and even some loyal advocates of the
regime came to the defense of Makhmalbaf and his films. The magazine Soroush,
the official organ of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, appealed to
the government to defend its policies in the face of the vilification campaign
and remarked that because of the vilification, film, books, journals and music
were under increased pressures.
Former Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Khatami condemned the
tyranny of a single narrow viewpoint, and accused Ayatollah Jannati of
undermining artists' peace of mind and work.
Dr. Abdol Karim Soroush, a renowned Islamic scholar and lecturer, also spoke in
defense of the artist and his work and encouraged people not to be swayed by
the "propaganda of fascists"
In this particular battle, the voice and
power of the more intolerant factions prevailed and both of Makhmalbaf's films
were banned. His 1993 film Honarpsheh (Actor), was issued a release permit only
after certain portions were censored.
And the proposed screenplay for his most recent work, involving the Iraqi
occupation of Kuwait,
BANNED POLITICAL EXPRESSION
All forms of political expression and dissent
are strictly curtailed as undermining the prevailing system of governance based
on velayat-i-faquijh. Coupled with this ban on political discourse, large
numbers of political prisoners have been executed and imprisoned since the
revolution, the precise numbers of whom are unknown.
While many political organizations joined hands to bring about the revolution
in 1979, political opposition was abruptly and violently curbed soon after the
establishment of the Islamic Republic. Due to the government's repressive
policies, almost all dissident political groups have been forced to continue
their activities in exile.
All forms of expression and speech associated
with opposition movements were proscribed in the first years after the revolution.
For example, in 1980 and 1981, the ruling clerics cracked down on news organs
of former allies: Mojahed, the newspaper of the People's Mojahedin Khalq
Organization of Iran, Mizan (Scales of Justice), the newspaper of the
(Iranian Freedom Movement) and Enqelab-e Eslami (Islamic Revolution), the
newspaper of former President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. In 1983, the government
banned Mardom (People), the newspaper of the communist Tudeh party.
Shabnamehs, or clandestine political publications,
are distributed irregularly in Iran,
at high risk to their publishers and distributors. Among them are open letters
by Dr. Mehdi Bazargan, the first Prime Minister of post-revolutionary Iran,
on behalf of his Iranian Freedom Movement. These letters regularly attack the
government's policies, notably on freedom of expression and politial
association, but also on such issues as the raising of foreign loans.
Occasionally these statements he been published, in part, in the recognized
media; more often they are circulated clandestinely in xeros form.
REPRISALS AGAINST PUBLICATIONS
The most recent publications attacked or
banned on political grounds are the following:
14, 1993, a group of motorcycle riders attacked the office of the
scientific magazine Kiyan and broke windows in the facility.
Islamic Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) did not intervene until the computer
system and files had been damaged. The attackers called for the death of the
magazine's editor, Reza Tehrani, and demanded that the magazine be closed
because of an interview it had published with Bazargan, in which they claimed
he had insulted Islam. The government has taken no action against the
attackers, but Tehrani was questioned by the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's
Office. The magazine is still permitted to publish.
-In April 1993, a special court of the clergy
banned the magazine Rah-e Mojahed (The Path of the Mojahed) published by
Lotfollah Meissami for including statements by Ayatollah Hossein Ali
Montazeri's aides denouncing attacks on his office and his followers the
Ayatollah Montazeri, the appointed successor to Ayatollah Khomeini until 1989,
is now an opponent and critic of Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Khamenei
and President Rafsanjani. A number of Montazeri's aides, including his
son-in-law, was arrested and their offices ransacked in February 1993 after he
gave a speech to his theology class in Qom
criticizing the Iranian leadership.
-In early 1991, Abolfazl Mussavian, a
religious personality, journalist and editor of the local daily Khorasan in Mashhad,
was arrested. He had published an article about Ayatollah Montazeri. He was
accused of publishing "lies liable to disturb public order" and of
writing material contrary to Ayatollah Khomeini's edicts. He was convicted
following a secret summary trial before a special court for the clergy, and
sentenced to one year imprisonment and punishment by whipping. In October 1991
his sentence was commuted to internal exile in a village near Qom.
He has reportedly completed his term of banishment and is now living in Mashhad.
The number of persons imprisoned or executed
in connection with their non-violent expression of political dissent is not
known. Out of fear for their own and their families' well-being, many known
victims do not publicize their cases. The persecution of three women writers
and journalists associated with the communist Tudeh Party, however, has
received much international attention. The three were imprisoned in 1983,
before the party was outlawed; they were tried summarily and convicted in 1986.
The charges brought against them are not known. They are:
-Mariam Firouz, a prominent writer, editor,
and translator in her late seventies. She is the author of an autobiography,
Familiar Faces, and was chief editor of the magazine Jahan-e Zanan (Women's
World). Previously imprisoned during the time of the Shah, after the revolution
she was imprisoned again and given a death sentence, later commuted to an
indefinite prison term. While in prison, she is receiving medical care, but she
continues to suffer from ill health. In this compound she has been permitted to
live with her long-time companion, Noureddine Kianouri, the former First
Secretary of the outlawed Tudeh Party -- also imprisoned since 1983 and in poor
-Malakeh Mohammadi, a prominent journalist
and editor in her late seventies. She was the editor of the Tudeh party
newspapers Mardom (People) and Donya (World). In 1986 she received a death
sentence, later commuted to an indefinite prison term. She reportedly was
tortured in prison. Since 1991, there are reports that she has been released
and is presently under house arrest.
-Zohreh Ghaeni, an editor in her thirties.
She was the editor of a young women's newspaper, Azzaraksh. Previously
imprisoned during the time of the Shah, after the revolution she was sentenced
to eight years. She was reportedly released from prison in 1991.
Article 26 of the Constitution provides for
the right to political association.
The Political Parties Act, ratified on August
29, 1981, sets out conditions for the formation of parties,
societies and other associations and dictates the guidelines for processing a
permit by the Ministry of the Interior.
Despite these provisions, the list of
organizations allowed to register consists mainly of such nonpolitical groups
as the Islamic Association of Graduates from the Indo-Pakistan Sub-Continent,
the Society of Zoroastrian Priests, the Society of Surgeons, the Association of
Pediatricians, the Association for Women of the Islamic Republic and the
Islamic Center of Teachers. The only political groupings permitted are
different factions of the clergy, such as the Tehran Combatant Clergy
Association (the original group) (Majma'-e Rowhaniyat-e Mobarez-e Tehran),
and the Tehran Combatant Clergy Association (the breakaway group) (Majma'-e
Rowhaniyun-e Mobarez-e Tehran). No
political parties exist.
The two sister organizations profiled below
are the only ones that officially remain in Iran.
The reprisals against their activists for the exercise of constitutionally
protected speech have received wide international attention.
POLITICAL DISSIDENTS PUNISHED
Nehzat-e Azadi (Freedom Movement) and its
organization, Jamiyat Defa Az Azadi va Hakemiyat Mellat Iran (Association for the
Defense of Freedom and the Sovereignty of the Iranian Nation, ADFSIN)
established in 1961 and 1986 respectively, are the only opposition groups that
officially have remained in Iran and continued their activities, despite
numerous failed attempts to obtain political permits. Both organizations are
led by Mehdi Bazargan, Iran's
first Prime Minister after the revolution. The organizations' members have been
repeatedly imprisoned and their offices ransacked for the nonviolent expression
of their beliefs. The Freedom Movement's newspaper Mizan (Scales of Justice)
has been banned since 1981.
In May 1988, eight political activists
associated with the Freedom Movement and the ADFSIN were taken into custody after
they and others addressed an open letter to Ayatollah Khomeini and issued a
leaflet calling for an end to the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. Three activists
arrested at this time -- Ali Ardalan, Shah Hoseyni and Mohammad Tavassoli --
were held until the ceasefire was declared in July 1988. On June 1, 1988, the offices of the
organization were occupied and closed by the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor's
Office, their books and files confiscated. The newspapers Jomhouri-ye Islami
and Keyhan announced that pursuant to the order of the Revolutionary Prosecutor
of Tehran, the persons arrested were "nationalist elements" who had
sided with "global arrogance," engaged in pro-Iraq propaganda and had
"offended the honorable families of the martyrs."
In June 1990, twenty-five political activists
associated with the Freedom Movement and ADFSIN, some of whom had suffered
imprisonment under the Shah, were taken into custody once again after they and
sixty-five other prominent Iranians signed an open letter to President Ali
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani criticizing his government's domestic and foreign
policies and demanding greater civil liberties. On August 6, Dr. Farhad
Behbahani, one of the detainees and a member of the Central Council of the
Freedom Movement, was forced into a staged public confession on national
television about the association's "opposition to the system of the
Islamic Republic of Iran" and "very strong intellectual and moral
affinity with America."
Behbahani was subsequently released from prison but since then has been
prevented from working.
Sixteen of the group were released during the
year following their arrest. Nine, however, remained in custody and were
sentenced in June 1991 after a closed hearing, without benefit of legal counsel
and accused by Iranian officials and the state-owned media of contact and
collaboration with foreign powers.
The nine persons and their sentences consist
of: Hashem Sabbaghian (six months); Mohammad Tavassoli Hojati and Abdolali
Bazargan (two years); and Habibollah Davaran, Khosrow Mansourian, Akbar
Zarinehbaf, Ali Ardalan, Nezameldin Movahed and Abolfazl Mirshams Shahhshahani
(three years). Due to his poor health, Ali Ardalan was transferred to Jam
Hospital in Tehran.
The others remained in Tehran's
Evin prison. Their sentences commenced from the date of the hearing despite the
nearly one year of incarceration beforehand. In April 1992, on the occasion of
the thirteenth anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic, all nine
were pardoned and released.
Since passage of the Political Parties Act in
1981, both the Freedom Movement and the ADFSIN have applied for licenses in
accordance with the law. Pursuant to Article 14 of the Political Parties Act,
they repeatedly have confirmed their allegiance to the Constitution of the
Islamic Republic of Iran.
Until August 1992, there was no official response to their numerous requests;
nor had the organizations been declared illegal.
In a statement issued on August 9, 1992, the Interior Ministry stated that
"after much deliberation" by the Commission of Article 10,
The Freedom Movement's request had been denied. Pursuant to Article 13 of the
the Freedom Movement filed a complaint with the First Civil Court of Tehran on October 15, 1992 contesting the
legality of the Commission's ruling. Basing its case on Article 168 of the
Constitution, it has
requested a jury trial. At this writing, there has been no official action on
Meanwhile, the activities of the Freedom
Movement and the ADFSIN continue. They issue letters, leaflets and newsletters
which appear in irregular intervals and are distributed through volunteer
networks. The independent magazine Iran-e Farda (Iran of Tomorrow) often voices
the views of the Freedom Movement, for which it is frequently the object of
harsh criticism in the hard-line press.
RESTRICTED ACADEMIC FREEDOM
Soon after the 1979 change of government,
universities that had previously been nerve centers of the revolution became
areas where the new regime sought to suppress political dissent and consolidate
its power. In June 1980, armed gangs of hooligans loyal to the hard-line clergy
assaulted campuses with the proclaimed goal of closing the offices of
university political groups. These brutal attacks, which lasted for three days,
were carried out with the acquiescence and tacit approval of the authorities.
In their wake were scores of dead and injured students. The incident marked the
end of eighteen months of relative freedom of association and debate on
Following these attacks, universities were
officially closed for two years in order to produce a "cultural
revolution" in every aspect of their operation. On June 3, 1980, the
Setad-e Enqelab-e Farhangi (Cultural Revolution Panel) appointed by Ayatollah
Khomeini was given the task of "Islamicizing" the faculty, students
and curricula of all primary and secondary schools and universities. Textbooks
in law, social sciences and the humanities were rewritten according to Islamic
Faculties and students were purged, detained,
executed or forced into exile. According to the Minister of Culture and Higher
Education, the number of university professors and lecturers teaching in Iran's
thirty-four universities and other institutions of higher learning dropped from
12,000 before the revolution to 6,000 by 1989.
Overall more than 60,000 teachers were purged on the basis of their political
of these academics were branded lackeys of imperialism, Shah-lovers, spies,
Freemasons, Zionists, Baha'is, leftists and infidels.
In October 1981, the government started
incrementally reopening universities. A seven-member Supreme Council of
Cultural Revolution appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini supervises university
The student body also faced various
discriminatory practices. After passing rigorous country-wide entrance
examinations and regardless of their academic qualifications, students had to
pass a "character" test before securing entry into a university.
These practices started once the universities reopened.
The government investigates an applicant's religious, family and ideological
background and political activities. The investigators inquire, among other
things, whether the prospective student prays, participates in political
rallies, goes to Friday prayers and observes the Islamic dress code. If these
investigations reveal anything that is viewed with disfavor, the student is
barred from attending university. Reports from Iran
indicate that this practice has abated in the past fie years for entrance into
undergraduate programs, while it still persists for graduate and post-graduate
Universities are further impeded by
far-reaching government quotas. According to President Rafsanjani,
approximately forty percent of student admittance is devoted to released
prisoners of war, the revolutionary guards, paramilitary volunteers (basijis)
and the families of martyrs from the revolution and the war with Iraq.
These students are offered exclusive summer classes, private tutoring,
scholarships, extra bonus points and a specially designed entrance exam to
facilitate their admission. The semi-autonomous foundation Bonyad Shohada
(Martyr's Foundation) even established its own special primary and secondary
schools to serve these constituencies.
Students ardently committed to the values of
the revolution and the Islamic government is therefore assured a place on
university campuses. They also serve as the "eyes and ears" of the
authorities and report on those teachers and fellow students suspected of
harboring anti-Islamic or anti-regime sentiments. As a Tehran
University professor stated in
They [students who entered through quotas]
are all very fanatical in their views and create an atmosphere of fear in the
classrooms. No secular ideas can be objectively presented and argued on
university campuses. There have been many instances when these students have
threatened their professors and demanded that they must abide by the Islamic
principles in teaching and interpretation of their subject matters. On the
other hand, even Islamic laws, theology and jurisprudence must be interpreted
in accordance with the policies of the government. These students are very
effective in keeping everybody in check, and . . . shut up everyone even in the
In a speech on December 10, 1992, addressing the "spread of Western
infrastructure" in university curricula, Supreme Religious Leader Khamenei
Sciences that encompass Islamic thought and
guidance must not be set aside in the universities. Without a doubt, students
with Islamic credentials must be honored. The officials involved must put
teaching of humanities based on Islamic thought and world outlook ant the top
of their agenda.
VIGILANCE AND REPRISALS
The student organization Anjoman-Eslami
Daneshjuyan (Islamic Association of Students) is composed of the hezbollahi
group committed to monitoring the university atmosphere. It takes direct part
in the administration of universities through the presence of its representatives
on university control boards. The other, much less influential and younger
student organization, Jahad Daneshgahi (Islamic Society of Students), is
relatively moderate and engages in a variety of religious and cultural
It is not uncommon for the Islamic
Association of Students to threaten or complain about professors and prompt the
university officials to reprimand or discharge them for being insufficiently
Islamic. For example:
-In December 1992, students in the Islamic
Association accused a professor at the Ahvaz College of Physical Education of
"insulting Islamic values by drawing a caricature and displaying it in the
college's poster area.
A statement issued by the students threatened: "If steps are not taken
quickly we will act ourselves and give the proper answer to this insult and
The president of the university promised to take appropriate measures in
-In November 1992, students in the Islamic
Association complained about Professor Jafar-Poor in the Free University of
Tehran and accused him of "insulting sacred things and the beliefs of
issue was a joke he made in class that, due to technological innovations, it
was now possible to exchange the air in heaven with that in hell. In response
to the complaint. Jafar-Poor was discharged from the university.
RESTRICTIONS FOR WOMEN
Female students have had to contend with even
more severe restrictions on their access to education than their male colleagues.
According to the January 1993 report of Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, the Special
Representative of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights for Iran,
out of 169 fields of study in higher education women are banned from
ninety-one. These include fifty-five fields out of eighty-four in technology
and mathematics, seven out of forty in natural sciences, from all four fields
of agriculture, and twenty-five out of thirty-five in the faculty of letters
and humanities. In its response to the Special Representative in February 1993,
the Islamic Republic of Iran stated that there were "no limitations on
women to attain professional positions or to continue their studies, and only
infrequently are recommendations made to female students concerning a limited
number of fields of study."
In reality, binding restrictions in Iran
often occur in the stated form of "recommendation" and
DENIAL AND DISTORTION OF CULTURAL
After the revolution, the victorious Shi'a
clerics initially set out to downplay ancient Persian customs, artifacts and
heritage, reversing the Shah's emphasis on Iran's
pre-Islamic and monarchical history. Not only were they dedicated to fighting
Western cultural hegemony but they were also determined to sever or weaken all
ties to pre-Islamic values and ideas. This campaign has been largely
unsuccessful due to public resistance. Yet it comes to the fore from time to
In the early revolutionary period, many of Iran's
museums and private collections and archives were despoiled, auctioned off or
endangered through neglect or inadequate preservation. In line with their clear
preference for Iran's
Islamic period, the government discouraged any archeological excavation of
pre-Islamic sites on the grounds that all that was to be found were relics of
the age of idolatry. The more fanatical factions opted for extirpating all
mausoleums and icons they deemed to be non-Islamic. Soon after the revolution,
bands of hooligans attacked symbols of Iran[s
monarchical past, such as the ancient ruins of Persepolis,
the Safavid-era bathhouse of Khosrow Khan, and the pre-Islamic Ganj-nameh, an
adored petroglyph in Hamadan. The
Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization, affiliated with the Ministry of Culture
and Higher Education, is now vested with the responsibility to safeguard such
Similarly, the ruling clerics decided to
remove or simply replace all allusions to kings in Iranian popular lexicon. The
names of all cities, streets or monuments referring to any Shahs or monarchical
dynasties were changed. As examples of this revolutionary nomenclature,
Masjed-e shah (Shah's Mosque) and Maidan-e Shah (Shah's Square) were
respectively renamed Masjed-e Imam (Imam's Mosque), Maiden-e Imam (Imam's
square) and Bandar Khomeini.
In order to further "cleanse" the
popular vocabulary the government has restricted the range of names parents can
choose to name their children. Names and titles with a royal connotation or
those that are judged demeaning of exalted religious personalities are prohibited
when obtaining birth certificates. The use of Arabic, the original language of
the Koran, in place of the equivalent Persian words has gained much currency
since the revolution.
This process of "Islamicizing" Iran's
cultural heritage has left perhaps its most enduring imprint on the educational
system and the younger generation of Iranians coming of age since the
revolution. The government-sanctioned revision of history that is prevalent in
lower-school textbooks ranges from exaggerating or distorting the role of Islam
in bringing about historic milestones, such as the nationalization of the
Iranian oil industry in the late 1940's, to negative characterizations of Iran's
former kings, especially all aspects of the reigns of Reza Shah and Mohammand
Reza Shah. The
role of the clergy in Iranian history is also presented in distorted form.
History textbooks fail to acknowledge the symbiotic relationship that existed
for centuries between the clergy and the monarchy and foreign powers (e.g. Russia
and Britain) in
Similarly, ignored is the certain influential clerics' role in opposing the
constitutional movement in early 1900's and in supporting the Qajar monarchy.
Literary giants whose work is not in line
with the prevailing value system have been outright banned, de-emphasized or
reinterpreted. The hedonistic poetry of Omar Khayyam, the Sufi poetry of Nasser
Khosrow, the classical poetry of Hafez and the Shah Nameh (The Book of Kings)
of Hakim Abolqasem Ferdowsi are among such works.
The publication history of the Divan, by the
poet Mohammad-Taqi Bahar ("Malek-al-So'ara"), demonstrates a practice
employed by successive Iranian governments -- the manipulation and distortion
of literary and historical works to serve political ends.
Since first appearing fifty years ago, the Divan has gone through four
editions, and each time its content has been altered to conform with the
prevailing political climate. During the previous regime, it was censored so as
to remove all allusions to the poet's opposition to and criticism of Reza
Shah's rule. The post-revolutionary regime conversely added previously deleted
poems to the fourth edition printed in 1989, while deleting such poems as Ey
Zan and Chahar Ketaba, in which Bahar supported women's freedom and criticized religious
However, the public's resistance has forced
the government to back down in certain respects. In a significant act of
reversal, the millennium anniversary of Ferdowsi's Shah Nameh in December 1990
was celebrated by an officially-organized international conference. A similar
reversal is evident in the Iranian New Year celebrations, Nowruz, and a Persian
festival celebrating autumn, Mehregan. While initially such traditions were
downplayed in favor of religious occasions, this changed in March 1990: for the
first time since the revolution, the government celebrated the Iranian New
Year, and Ayatollah Khamenei even spoke about the importance of the occasion
and the traditions attached to it.
There are no guarantees that such
liberalization will last, however. In 1992, after years of trying to suppress
the ancient Zoroastrian "fire festival" Chahar Shanbeh Soori, the
government for the first time allowed the festivities to occur. Chahar Shanbeh
Soori, an old Persian tradition celebrated right before the New Year, is
considered pagan by the ruling clergy. Then, in March 1993, came a new
government crackdown Anti-riot police detained hundreds of youths in Tehran
setting off firecrackers and lighting fires to celebrate the festival.
Media reports stated that a possible reason for the government's reaction may
have been that the festival coincided this year with the period of mourning for
Imam Ali, one of the principal religious leaders for Muslims.
In any society, the principal
guardians of free expression are individual artists and intellectuals who push
the limits of permissible discourse and challenge the predominant ideology. The
range of critical and opposing views expressed, the diversity of speakers
represented and the costs attached to artistic and intellectual endeavor are
the measure of freedom in a society. In Iran
the parameters for discourse are strictly defined, and the range of speakers is
limited to the various factions of the ruling elite. The punishment for
deviation from these parameters in turn can be severe, ranging from the
destruction or confiscation of property, harassment and financial ruin, to
prosecution, imprisonment and even death.
The findings of this report in
relation to the different arenas of expression are summarized below:
-The press in Iran,
compared with some countries in the region, presents a range of views, but the
scope of permissible dissent or criticism is nevertheless extremely narrow,
limited to partisans of the ruling movement. All newspapers and some magazines
are either owned by or closely affiliated with the government. Independent
magazines are generally precluded from covering the political arena and from
overt social criticism. Furthermore, the journalistic community is constantly
plagued by the prospect of unchecked attacks by vigilante groups, prosecution
based on the content of their published work, and imprisonment.
-Access of foreign journalists to Iran
has increased since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. Nevertheless, in the
case of "undesirable" news stories, foreign journalists in Iran
still risk questioning by the government, closure of local offices and
deportation. Iranian journalists working for foreign news agencies, moreover,
are considered a suspect group by the authorities and are particularly
vulnerable to government pressure.
-The crucial media of radio and television
remain under government control and broadcast largely political and religious
programs. No opposing or critical views from outside the governing elite find a
voice on radio or television. Even debates on dissension within government
circles are not broadcast.
-Books are plentiful and give voice to
relatively diverse opinions. But a cumbersome and arbitrary system of book
censorship allows the government to control, alter and ban work whenever it
wishes. Hard-sought government permits to publish a book provide no guarantee
for its continued existence; nor do they provide for the security of its author
and others associated with its publication in the face of unchecked vigilante
attacks. Content-based prosecutions and imprisonment may occur whether or not a
book has been officially approved. The financial loss represented by books
banned after publication serves as an effective tool of government retribution
and increases the pressures for self-censorship.
-Since its issuance in February 1989, the
fatwa has been reconfirmed by leading members of the Iranian government. The
bounty offered by the semi-autonomous Fifteenth of Khordad Foundation has been
increased for the third time from $2 million dollars to an undetermined amount.
Additionally, the fatwa has been extended to increasing numbers of individuals
who have darted to speak out against the death threat and in support of freedom
of expression. The group of 162 Iranians in exile who issued a declaration
condemning the fatwa at their personal risk and cost is a notable example.
-Iranian films have received international
praise in the past decade. But for all the individual foreign success stories,
proportionately far more screenplays have been rejected, and films banned or
censored, including the work of filmmakers who are internationally acclaimed.
As with books, government permits for films are meaningless in the face of a
critical or unsympathetic "public atmosphere" or javv. This javv is
often whipped up artificially by vigilante groups and intolerant factions
within the ruling elite; yet it is customary for government officials to alter
state policy in response to the prevailing javv. The financial loss involved in
having a film banned also serves as a tool of control and censorship.
-Political speech that is genuinely
independent or critical of the government persists only on the margins of the
society. The government deals with any infringement in this domain decisively
and with severity. Some underground publications and leaflets circulate
clandestinely, but at a high risk to their authors and distributors
-The academic environment is treated as an
ideological training ground. Faculty and curricula have been "purged"
and "Islamicized" since the revolution. Universities, in particular,
are largely restricted to students with the "proper" ideological
orientation, as interpreted by the government.
-Since the revolution, historical, literary
and cultural texts have been rewritten to comply with Islamic criteria. Until
recently the celebration of historic traditions, such as the New Year
festivities, has been impeded by the government as remnants of Iran's
pre-Islamic past and the age of idolatry. While the government's campaign has
been largely unsuccessful due to public resistance, certain of its elements
persist and come to the fore from time to time.
Furthermore, the laws in the Islamic Republic
of Iran, as enacted and enforced, provide no guarantee of freedom of
expression, and no protection to those who exceed the narrow confines of
accepted discourse. The Constitution's guarantee of freedom of expression is
crippled by exceptions that require compliance with "the fundamental
principles of Islam or the rights of the public." The Press Law and film
and book regulations expand on these debilitating exceptions. Provisions in
these legal instruments, apart from setting the limits for discourse, also
dictate its content; it is the duty of every citizen in all aspects of his or
her life "to enjoin the good and forbid the evil," a Koranic phrase
requiring every individual to lead a moral life. Additionally, eligibility to
start a publication is limited by the Press Law to those who exhibit
"moral fitness," as determined by the government. The Iranian
government's enforcement of its laws is very selective. The Constitutional
provision stating that "political and press offenses will be tried openly
and in the presence of a jury, in courts of justice," and the Press Law's
requirement that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance alone monitor
press-related matters have been largely ignored. Instead, a number of different
state (e.g. the Islamic Revolutionary Prosecutor) and state-affiliated (e.g.
foundations and newspapers) entities maintain a tight hold on public
expression. Similarly, despite provisions in the Press Law prohibiting
defamation, libel and vilification, these obnoxious practices are a trademark
of state-affiliated press attacks, particularly against the artistic and
intellectual community. The provision of the Press Law categorically outlawing
government censorship and control over the press is simply ignored.
In any event, a large part of the government's
mechanisms of control and censorship fall outside the law. The government
exercises control "unofficially" through binding
"suggestions" and "advice" conveyed verbally, not in
writing, to the responsible parties; or indirectly through the imposition of
financial constraints and the unchecked reign of vigilante groups. In not a
single case has the government sought to prosecute individuals who have taken
the law into their own hands, destroyed property or threatened lives. On
occasion, the government sought to prosecute individuals who have taken the law
into their own hands, destroyed property or threatened lives. On occasion, the
government has even taken its cue from radical Islamic vigilante groups; as
though they somehow articulated "public will," and have gone on to
initiate its own prosecution of writers, cartoonists, publishers or editors.
The Iranian government's conduct in different
arena of expression betrays an underlying belief that, through the close
monitoring and restriction of information, it can control the thoughts of its
citizens and secure the dominance of a prescribed set of values. In an
ever-shrinking globe, in which the transfer and exchange of information
respects no national boundaries, the Iranian government's efforts to maintain
control of the public's access to information and images is ultimately a losing
battle. Radio broadcasts, satellite communication, videos and facsimile
machines, as well as the movement of people, ensure that the Iranian public's
link with the outside world is not severed. It is no longer a question of
whether the public will have access but rather through what medium. The
government's repressive policies have merely deepened the people's distrust in,
and indifference toward, the official media of information exchange.
It is in such an environment that Iranian
women and men have continued to work and produce in their chosen medium, be it
literature, film, art or music and to push the limits of freedom and challenge
the reign of a prescribed set of values. Their work as well as their person or
lives, however, bear the mark of their daily struggles against censorship,
uncertainty and fear. The perseverance and determination of those committed to
freedom -- freedom to think, speak, write and live as one chooses -- have not
been without avail, and are at the basis of the relatively improved
circumstances at the time of the publication of this report, over fourteen
years after the revolution. Essential to the ideal of a free human being,
however, is freedom from fear, and this the Iranian artist or intellectual is
denied as she or he continues to lead a precarious existence in a society where
the order of the day is arbitrariness. This report honors the courage of their
struggles and the strength of their convictions.
DECLARATION OF IRANIAN INTELLECTUALS AND
CONDEMNING THE FATWA AND SIGNATORIES AS
OF MARCH 1993
Issued to the Iranian and international
press in March 1992 to mark the third anniversary of the fatwa, the following
declaration was the first collective statement by Iranians willing to lend
their names in support of Salman Rushdie's right to life and free expression.
The original fifty signatories appear here with asterisks following their
It is three years since Khomeini issued his
death sentence against the writer, Salman Rushdie, and as yet no firm and
decisive action has been taken by Iranians to condemn this inhuman decree. As
this attack on the freedom of expression originated in Iran,
we believe that Iranian intellectuals have a special responsibility forcefully
to condemn this decree and to defend Salman Rushdie.
We, the signatories of this declaration, who
in the past, individually and in many different ways, have shown (our) support
for Salman Rushdie, believe that freedom of speech is one of the most precious
of the achievements of mankind and that, as Voltaire remarked, this freedom
would be meaningless unless individuals had the freedom to blaspheme. No one
and no group has the right to limit this freedom in the name of one or another
religion or sanctity.
We consider Khomeini's decree intolerable and
emphasize that only esthetic criteria are valid in judging a work of art.
We unanimously raise our voices in the
defense of Salman Rushdie. We call the world's attention to the fact that all
Iranian writers, artists, journalists and thinkers inside Iran
live daily under the merciless pressure of religious censorship and that the
number of those who have been imprisoned or executed for "blasphemy"
is not negligible.
We are convinced that silence and
indifference towards the systematic violation of the most basic of human rights
of the people of Iran
cannot but embolden the Islamic Republic to implement worldwide its terroristic
ideas and to issue decrees such as pronounced against Salman Rushdie.
1. Shahnaz AALAMI (Poet)*
2. Mahasti AFSHAR (Scholar)*
3. Kourosh AFSHARPANAH (Actor)
4. Shirzad AGHAIE (Poet)
5. Fereydoun AHMAD (Writer)
6. Reza ALLAMEH-ZADEH (Film-maker)*
7. Nasrin ALMASI (Actress)
8. Mahshid AMIR-SHAHI (Writer)*
9. Mishaneh AMIR-SHAHI (Scholar)*
10. Mansour ANVARI (Journalist)*
11. Mary APICK (Actress)
12. Ali-Mohammad ARBABI (Journalist)*
13. Aref AREFKIA (Vocalist)
14. Kourosh ARIA-MANESH (Scholar)*
15. Mina ASADI (Poet)
16. Bijan ASSADI-POUR (Caricaturist)*
17. Touraj ATABAKI (Scholar)*
18. Assur-Banipal BABELA (Dramatist)
19. Houshang BAHARLOU (Cinematographer)*
20. Mahmoud BAGHBAN (Artist/Photographer)
21. Behrouz BEHNEZAD (Actor)
22. Shahin BEHRAVESH (Psychologist)*
23. Ali-Asghar BEHROUZIAN (Writer)
24. Shahram BROUKHIM (Actor)
25. Jamshid CHALANGI (Writer)
26. Mohi CHAICHI (Actor)
27. Fereydoun DAEMI (Radio Programmer)
28. Hayadeh DARAGAHI (Scholar)
29. Ali DASTA (Actor)
30. Mahmoud DAVOUDI (Poet)
31. Mohammad-Reza DJALILI (Scholar)*
32. Mehrangiz DOWLATSHAHI (Sociologist)*
33. Farideh EBLAGHIAN (Writer)
34. Ahmad EBRAHIMI (Poet)
35. Homa EHSAN (Journalist/Radio producer)
36. Sadreldine ELAHI
37. Nasser EMAMI (Sculptor)
38. Nasser ENGHETAE (Journalist)
39. Ahmad ESFANDIAR-MAZ (Artist)
40. Khanak ESHGHI-SANATI (Lawyer)
41. Azar FAKHR (Actress)
42. Nasser FAKHTEH (Journalist)
43. Hossein FARAJI (Journalist)
44. Cyrous FARMANFARMAJAN (Architect)*
45. Farhang FARAHI (Journalist)*
46. Faramarz FARSHAD (Journalist)
47. Hamid FATEMI (Journalist)
48. Shahla FATEMI (Politic Analist)*
49Kaveh FOULADI (Scholar)
50. Hayadeh FOULAD-POUR (Scholar)
51. Majid GHADIR (Artist)
52. Kambiz GHAEM-MAGHAM (Actor/Computer
53. Maryam GHAFFARI (Archeologist)*
54. Shahyar GHANBARI (Poet/Vocalist)
55. Jamshid GOLMAKANI (Film-maker)
56. Mahmoud GOUDARZI (Journalist)
57. Safa HAERI (Journalist)*
58. Behzad HAFEZI (Journalist)
59. Mehdi HAJIJAFARI (Architect)
60. Ali-Asghar HAJ-SEYED JAVADI (Essayist)*
61. Ebrahim HARANDI (Poet/Scholar)
62. Avideh HASHEMI (Architect)
63. Hormoz HEKMAT (Scholar)
64. Daryoush HOMAYOON (Journalist)*
65. Fereydoun HOVEYDA (Writer)
66. Homayoun HOUSHYAR-NEJAD (Journalist)
67. Mohammad JAFARI (Actor)
68. Iraj JANATI-ATAYI (Poet/Playwright)*
69. Ramin KAMRAN (Sociologist)*
70. Parviz KARDAN (Actor/T.V. Director)*
71. Daryoush KARGAR (Writer)
72. Ahmad KARIMI-HAKAK (Scholar)*
73. Rafi KHACHATOURIAN (Actor)
74. Nasim KHAKSAR (Writer)*
75. Yahya KHAKZAD (Journalist)
76. Bijan KHALILI (Publisher)*
77. Mouloud KHANLARY (Essayist)*
78. Akbar KASHEFIAN (Writer)
79. Fereydoun KHAVAND (Scholar)*
80. Khosrow KHAZAIE (Scholar)
81. Abou KHERADMAND (Actress)*
82. Reza KHIYABANI (Writer)
83. Manouk KHODABAHSHIAN (Essayist/T.V. Producer)
84. Esmail KHOEI (Poet)
85. Lotfollah KHONJI (Commentator)
86. Morteza LATIFI (Journalist)
87. Ali LIMOUNADI (T.V. Director)
88. Amir MAENAVI (Journalist/Publisher)
89. Sousan MAFI (T.V. Reporter)
90. Mohammad-Houssein MAHINI (Film-maker)
91. Syrous MALAKOUTI (Composer)
92. Hossein MALEK (Scholar)*
93. Mehdi MEHRAMOUZ (Poet)
94. Daryoush MEHEGAN (Journalist)
95. Jamshid MESHKATI (Poet)
96. Morteza MIR AFTABI (Novelist)
97. Ahmad MIRFAKHRAIE (Scholar)
98. Ali MIRFETROSS (Scholar/Writer)
99. Mansour MOADDEL (Sociologist)
100. Hossein MOHRI (Journalist)*
101. Ardavan MOFID (Actor/Director)
102. Taghi MOKHTAR (Writer/Film-maker)
103. Taher MOMTAZ (Journalist)
104. Esfandiar MONFARED-ZADEH (Composer)*
105. Assadollah MOROVATI (Radio Producer)
106. Marva NABILI (Film-maker)
107. Mohsen NADERI-NEJAD (T.V.
108. Nader NADER-POUR (Poet)*
109. Firouzeh NADJI (Poet)
110. Niki NAZIE (Radio T.V. Producer)
111. Hassan NAZIEH (Lawyer)
112. Djamileh NEDAIE (Art Critic)
113. Javad NOURI (Journalist/Radio Programmer)
114. Partow NOURIALA (Poet)*
115. Ali-Reza NOURI-ZADEH (Poet/Commentator)
116. Kamran NOZAD (Actor)
117. Mahmoud OSTOWAR/KAVIR (Poet)
119. Abbas PAHLAVAN (Writer)
120. Younes PARSABENAB (Scholar)
121. Koushiar PARSI (Writer)
122. Daryoush PRINIA (Scholar)
123. Mansourch PIRNIA (Journalist)
124. Ali POURTASH (Actor)
125. Iraj RAMANI (Poet)
126. Hassan RAJAB-POUR (Journalist)
127. Zohreh RAMSEY (Actress)
128. Manoucherhr RAZMARA (Physician)*
129. Morteza REZVANI (Writer)
130. Assad ROKHSARIAN (Poet)
131. Houshin SABETI (School administrator)
132. Parisa SAED (T.V. Programmer)
133. Morteza SAGHAFIAN (Poet)
134. Hassan SAHELNESHIN (Poet)
135. Ali SAJJADI (Journalist)
136. Kourosh SALEHI (Artist)
137. Satar SALIMI (Archealogist)
138. Hossein SAMAKAR (Writer)
139. Homa SARSHAR (Journalist)*
140. Hassan SATTARIAN (Scholar)
141. Parviz SAYYAD (Playwright/Film-maker)
142. Massoud SEFATIAN (Architect)
143. Ali-Reza SEPASI (Writer/Publisher)
144. Shojaeldine SHAFA (Writer)*
145. Kamran SHAHGALDI (Administrator)
146. Cyrus SHARAFSHAHI (Journalist)
147. Ali SHARIFIAN (Reporter)
148. Behrouz SQURESRAFIL (Journalist)*
149. Djalal SOUSSAN-ABADI (Miniaturist)*
150. Syrous TABARESTANI (Writer/Scholar)
151. Farzaneh TAEIDI (Actress)
152. Barbad TAHERI (Cinematographer)*
153. Nasser TAHMASEBI (Physician/Writer)
154. Hassan TEHRANCHIAN (Scholar)*
155. Shahram TEHRANI (Architect)
156. Fereydoun TONEKABONI (Writer)
157. Shadab VAJDI (Poet)
158. Houshang VAZIRI (Journalist)*
159. Ileen VEEGEN (Actress)
160. Mehdi YOUSEFI (Scholar/Dentist)
161. Hassan ZEREHI (Journalist)*
162. Akbar ZOLGHARNEIN (Poet)
UNIVERSITY ENTRANCE EXAMINATIONS
The following three student testimonies
relate to the concours or university entrance examinations administered in the
years 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984. Over the years, the government's character
investigations became progressively more systemic and organized. Persons as
diverse as school principals, neighbors, members of the Islamic Association of
Students, and representatives of local mosques are called upon to inform the
government of the characters of prospective students. The government has on
occasion implemented its character test through manipulation of entrance
examinations. Reports from Iran,
however, suggest that since 1985 the government has loosened its character
selection process for undergraduate degrees while keeping it in place for
graduate and post-graduate studies. Also, there is now a grievance procedure in
place such that students can inquire about their concours ranking and contest
the results of the government's character investigations. This partial
loosening in the government's procedures can be attributed to the significant
public criticism and to the government's recognition of Iran's
need for its most talented and educated youth.
Middle East Watch took these testimonies from
Iranians in exile and has changed their names at their request.
CASE OF MARYAM
CONCOURS EXAMINATION OF 1981
Maryam was among the first group of students
to attend university in Iran
after the revolution in the field of medicine, and also among the first to be
"purged" on the basis of her family history. At the time, the
government had no yet developed a system for character investigations before
entrance into university, and the process took a more haphazard form after
In the spring of 1980, Maryam obtained her
high school diploma and in the fall, universities were closed abruptly for an
indefinite period to implement the "cultural revolution." Classes in
preparation for university entrance examinations, however, continued during
this time and Maryam was required to supplement her pre-revolutionary education
with an in-depth study of the Koran, Ayatollah Khomeini's Tozih al Masa'el
(Explanation of Problems, and Imam Ali's Nahj al-Balagha (Road to Eloquence).
State-affiliated newspapers "advised" that voluntary work at
hospitals would enhance a student's chance of attending university. Maryam
volunteered full time at the Hazrath-e
Fatemeh Jadid Hospital
for a year and a half, assisting primarily with the injured from the Iran-Iraq
Medical programs at universities were among
the first to be reopened in response to the immediate needs of the war. The
first set of concours examinations after the revolution was administered in the
summer of 1981. Maryam took the examination for entrance into Daneshgah-e Melli
In customary fashion, the names of persons who had passed the examination were
posted on university walls, and her name was included among them. She started
attending university in the fall of 1981.
After completion of her first semester, the
officials at the university announced that "there had been mistakes in the
grading of the first set of concours examinations and that it was necessary to
interview every student on an individual basis." Maryam recalls that her
father tried to dissuade her from attending the interview and recommended that
she withdraw from university: "I was afraid. I didn't know what they would
do to me if I said the wrong thing."
Maryam nevertheless decided to attend the
interview. On the designed day, she appeared at the interview location. An
armed revolutionary guard led her through a series of hallways to a large empty
room where only a bearded man was seated behind a desk with files of paper. She
was given an application to complete. The application asked for the name and
occupation of her parents and the address of their home. She recalls the brief conversation
that followed the completion of the application:
Question: Your father is a retired officer?
Q: When did he retire?
R: In 1981
Q: Who decorated your father, the Shah?
Q: You live in uptown Tehran?
Q: Thank you. We will notify you of the
In a few weeks time, a modified list appeared
on the walls of the university indicating those who had passed the entrance
examination. This time Maryam's name was not among them.
Maryam left Iran
in 1985 to continue her studies abroad.
CASE OF SARAH
CONCOURS EXAMINATION OF 1982
Upon completion of the "cultural
revolution," the first nation-wide concurs examination were administered
in 1982. Compared to the previous year, in which the exam had been administered
to only medical students, the government had now fine-tuned its character test
for university applicants so as to purge "undesirable" students
before the commencement of their studies. Sarah was one of the students
rejected as a result of this test.
The concours exam was administered in two
stages. In order to attend the second stage of the exam, it was necessary for
the student to have passed the first stage as sell as the character test.
Students submitted a list of references to the authorities who could vouch for
their character. This list often included teachers, neighbors, friends, high
school principal and representatives from the local mosque. Once the student
had passed the first stage, government officials would make character inquires
and notify the student whether he or she should take the second half of the
Sarah's list only had the names of neighbors
and friends. When Sarah had gone to her high school to get her report card, her
principal had told her, "Don't even try to get ton the list [of approved
students]." Sarah's references were contacted by the government,
indicating that she had passed the first part of the exam, but she was never
notified by the government to take the second part.
Sarah recalls, "There was no recourse.
Nowhere to make inquires." She also recalls, "There was much public
criticism of these methods."
Sarah left Iran
in 1991, and is continuing her studies abroad.
CASE OF LEILA
CONCOURS EXAMINATIONS OF 1983 AND OF 1984
Leila took the concours in 1983 and 1984. The
first year, she was rejected on character grounds, although she had ranked high
enough for admission into her profession of choice, medicine. The second year,
she was accepted into her last choice, midwifery. Leila's problems with the
authorities were confounded by the fact that she is from a small town in the
north of Iran,
as she states, "where everyone knows everyone."
Leila graduated from high school in 1983.
That year, the principal of the school had been replaced by a
"religious" woman. Leila was always a straight A student but this
year she was given a lower grade for Enzebat Eslami (Islamic Discipline). When
she approached her principal about her discipline grade, the principal stated,
"the times that you received an A have passed."
Leila took the concours in 1983, administered
in two stages after the first stage; her name was published in the newspapers
among those who had passed. Leila used her first eleven choices for medicine,
which is one of the most difficult fields to enter, and her last choice for
medical technology, one of the easier fields to enter.
She took the second part of the exam, but this time her name was not printed in
Leila recalls, "I was shocked that I had
even failed medical technology. Her family, thinking that she had not prepared
herself well enough, urged her to attend concours preparation courses and to
take the exam once again. Leila came to Tehran
to attend the preparation courses.
Leila remembers well the day, about two
months before the 1984 exam, when she overheard a group of fellow students at
the preparation course discussing reports they had received from the government
indicating their ranking in the concours in terms of every profession they had
selected as well as the cut-off point for that profession. "I was very
surprised," Leila states, I had never received any such report." Upon
inquiring about this report, she was told by one of the students, "Promise
you will not be upset. They send these cards only to people who have passed
Leila inquired at the Ministry of Culture and
Higher Education in Tehran about
the report she had never received. "First, the official remarked how I did
not look like I would have failed (I was dressed in full compliance with
Islamic principles) and then he sent me to a board where the names of persons
who had mistakenly not received the report were posted," Leila states.
Since she did not find her name there, the official stated "hen you must
have failed the investigation." I asked him if he could nevertheless look
up my grades and tell me if I had scored high enough for medicine. "He
returned with a sad face," Leila recalls, "and said that I had ranked
much higher than medical technology [required] but that he couldn't say
more." Since all of Leila's other choices were medicine, this meant that
her grades had been high enough for acceptance into medicine. "This
discovery was very disheartening, especially two months prior to the next round
of exams," she states.
She was urged to clear up her investigation
file before taking the exam again. She returned to her home town to get
character approval letters. When she asked her principal for a letter, she was
told, "At prayer time, you would not pray with the other girls and instead
would eat a sandwich." When she approached the Anjoman-Eslami Daneshjuyan
(Islamic Association of Students) at her school, she was told, "You had
Tudeh [Communist] friends." (In this regard, Leila states, "A student
my age determined my destiny.") When her father approached the Islamic
council at the local mosque, he was told, "the vote within the council at
the time your daughter had applied for university was three for and two
against. The complaint was that your family did not go to mosque."
She nevertheless took the next round of
entrance examinations in 1984. She once again used her first eleven options for
medicine and the last for midwifery. This year, the government notified her of
her ranking, and she was told that she could either enter midwifery or the
profession she had selected the previous year, medical technology. She entered
midwifery, which requires two and a half years of study.
In conclusion, Leila stated, "I will
never forgive them for changing the course of my life in this way." She
has now resumed her studies abroad in a different field.