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Iran November 29, 2006
H.E. Mahmood Ahmadinejad
Office of the President
Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: (011.98.21) 649-5880 or 646-6415
The Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) asks that you address the serious erosion of press freedoms in Iran over the past several years, particularly in the wake of more arrests and newspaper closings.
We note that the current crack-down on journalists and freedom of expression seems connected to the upcoming elections for Iran ‘s Assembly of Experts on December 15. We have seen the assertions made on November 23 by Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi in a news conference denying that there is “a lack of freedom of expression in Iran .” In light of your government’s recent actions, this can only be called absurd.
And, like most of those outside the country, we firmly believe that the just-announced 2007 issuance of “reporter cards” for Iranian journalists can only further harm freedom of expression in your country. The new credential is supposed to give “due recognition to the rights of journalists,” according to Alireza Mokhtarpur, the deputy culture minister for press affairs. But, we see that a special commission will be formed by the Ministry to determine the “eligibility” of reporters applying for the card.
Censorship, and now this latest tool – prior government control over journalistic accreditation – form a two-pronged weapon the Iranian authorities are using to skewer press freedom. It can only aggravate the existing tension between the Iranian authorities and the country’s journalists. Not to forget, Iran ‘s credibility abroad.
Iran ‘s lack of press freedom, among other transgressions, was noted on November 21 in a draft resolution approved by the United Nations General Assembly’s Third Committee calling on the governments of four countries – Burma , Belarus , North Korea and Iran — to end human rights violations. The U.N. motion makes reference to press freedom issues as it would have the General Assembly express “serious concern at the continuing harassment, intimidation and persecution of human rights defenders, political opponents, ethnic and religious minorities and other groups in Iran , as well as the country’s persistent failure to comply fully with the international standards in the administration of justice.”
We can assure you from our viewpoint that it is a longstanding perception outside Iran that your country believes in state-sponsored censorship as opposed to freedom of expression. We offer some recent evidence:
• The Iranian Press Surveillance Commission’s decision to ban the daily, Sharq, the nation’s most important pro-reform newspaper, when it did not replace a managing director by order of the Iranian government. The editor was accused of publishing controversial stories and articles creating public discord. Many of the reporters from Sharq moved on to the social and cultural newspaper, Rouzegar before it was also shut down.
• The closing of Rouzega r after just one week because of its pro-reform tone. It was attempting to fill a void in political coverage left by the closure of Sharq.
• The Commission for Authorizing and Monitoring the Press also shut down a pair of monthly publications . Nameh , an independent monthly had an openly critical style. Its editors had been interrogated numerous times, according to RSF. No reason was given for the closure of Hafez, which is named for an Iranian poet.
• Iran is on the Reporters Without Borders’ list of “13 Internet Enemies.” On November 7, the Iranian government blocked Internet access to two websites — www.tik.ir and www. meydaan.com. Ayatollah Mesbah has been criticized by tik.ir while meydaan.com advocates an end to stoning women.
• Three journalists arrested October 12 were held for a month with no communication to their families about their whereabouts or legal status. Farhad Aminpour and Reza Alipour posted bail on November 15; however, Saman Solimani remains in prison. All worked for the weekly Kurdish-language newspaper, Rouji Ha Lat . All still face the possibility of prosecution and long jail sentences for “actions against national security.”
The OPC urges you and your leadership to take a new direction on press freedom in Iran . This means matching your actions to Minister Haffar-Sarandi’s words, putting an end to the closure of newspapers, magazines and websites and releasing imprisoned journalists.
The new accreditation process should be ended, allowing anyone the opportunity to practice journalism throughout Iran in any medium. A formal policy of press freedom could be established to create an environment where Iran ‘s considerable creative talent, which we have seen in film and poetry, would be able to flourish in the field of journalism.
We look forward to your response.
Freedom of the Press Committee
Ali Hoseini-Khamenei, Ayatollah
Leader of the Islamic Revolution
Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: (011.98.21) 646-4373
Ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif-Khonsari
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran
to the United Nations
622 Third Avenue , 34th Floor
New York , NY 10017
Fax: (212) 867-7086
c/o Interests Section
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
2209 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington , DC 20007
Fax: (202) 965-1073
Editor, Iran Focus
Iran Daily News
Editor, Pars Times
Political Editor, Tehran Times