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CAPSULE REPORT: RSF appeals to future Parliament on eve of elections

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders urges those who win the 14 March 2008 elections for the unicameral parliament, the eighth since the Islamic revolution, to respect the international treaties ratified by Iran including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it adopted in 1975. Press freedom is constantly being violated and eight journalists are currently detained, making Iran the Middle East's biggest prison for the press.

"During the four years of the outgoing parliament, more than 100 journalists were summoned, detained, interrogated or given sentences ranging from three months in prison to the death penalty," the press freedom organisation said.

"We call on the next parliament to embark on a thorough reform of the publications law in order to decriminalize press offences and guarantee journalists greater freedom of expression. The current law, in force since 2000, is extremely repressive and allows the government to easily censor news media that annoy it."

The authorities have cracked down harder on journalists since the ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election as president in August 2005. None of the few remaining independent daily newspapers has survived the constant harassment by the government and the courts, and most of the other independent publications have also disappeared.

The latest was the women's monthly "Zanan", which was suspended by the Press Authorisation and Surveillance Commission - an offshoot of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance - on 28 January for "offering a sombre picture of the Islamic Republic" and "compromising its readers' mental health."

Many government bodies monitor and regulate the media. As well as the Press Authorisation and Surveillance Commission, which is in charge of issuing licences, there is the High Council for National Security, which censors journalists on a daily basis by forbidding them to broach certain issues such as nuclear power or women's movements.

The latest directives to the news media before the start of the election campaign urged them to refer to "the Iranian people's great nuclear victory" and banned them from mentioning the "election boycott calls made by certain political tendencies."

The judicial authorities also intervene in the work of the media. Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi does not hesitate to telephone newspaper editors in order to tell them what to put on their front page or forbid them to mention certain subjects. And the government media are used to attack journalists or the few reformist politicians who dare to give interviews to foreign media.

The authorities continue to ban satellite dishes, which are used to receive Farsi-language broadcasts from outside the country. In the past two months, the police have waged a campaign to identify homes with dishes.

Finally, a number of foreign reporters have been able to get visas to cover the parliamentary elections, but university academics, intellectuals and Iranian journalists have been warned not to talk to them.

Click here to read the chapter on Iran in this year's annual report on press freedom worldwide, which Reporters Without Borders issued on 13 February: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25431&Valider=OK

Iran is also on the updated list of "Internet Enemies" which the organisation issued on 12 March: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26154&var_mode=calcul

For further information on the Zanan case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/90376

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