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Web journalist sentenced to six months in prison; moderate weekly suspended a day after Ayatollah Khamenei threatens media

(RSF/IFEX) - The moderate weekly "Shahrvand Emrouz" was suspended on 5 November 2008 at the behest of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance after publishing four issues in a row with portraits of politicians seen as potential presidential candidates. In a separate development, an online woman journalist has been sentenced to six months in prison on a national security charge.

The suspension came one day after a violent diatribe by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against press criticism of the government. "This irresponsible atmosphere consisting of speaking out against the government will not be easily forgiven by God," Iran's Supreme Leader said, a few days after condemning the "premature" start of election campaign in the media as "contrary to the government's interests."

"Ayatollah Khamenei's last public attack on the media, in 2000, signalled the start of an unprecedented crack-down on pro-reform publications in which more than 200 newspapers were suspended," Reporters Without Borders said. "We fear that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government will step up the pressure on the opposition press in the run-up to the presidential election scheduled for June 2009."

The press freedom organisation added: "More than 30 media outlets have been censored by the government since the start of the year. At the same time, Ahmadinejad's allies are in the process of launching new publications that will be extremely useful for his re-election campaign."

The Commission for Press Authorisation and Press Surveillance, an offshoot of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, ordered the Farsi-language "Shahrvand Emrouz"'s suspension on 5 November for "publishing political articles without an appropriate licence." According to the commission, it is only licensed for coverage of cultural and social developments.

Launched in March 2007 by Mohamad Atrianfar, an ally of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, "Shahrvand Emrouz" is produced by the former staff of "Shargh", a pro-reform daily that was banned in 2007.

Ahmadinejad allies started up two new daily newspapers in the past month. "Khorshid" ("The Sun" in Farsi) was launched on 4 October by a former government spokesman, with funding from the social security agency, but has already stopped appearing following a dispute within the management. The other daily, "Vatan Emrouz" ("Fatherland Today"), was launched just a few days ago by a former Ahmadinejad adviser.

The online journalist who has just received a six-month jail sentence for "activity liable to harm national security" is Solmaz Igder of the Canon Zeman Irani ( ) website. Handed down by a revolutionary court in Rai (south of Tehran), the sentence was notified to Igder orally. The court's refusal to give her any written notification of the sentence has prevented her from getting a lawyer for an appeal.

"The Iranian courts are totally subservient to the government," Reporters Without Borders said. "Dissident journalists never get a fair trial and now Solmaz Igder is even being denied the possibility of appealing against her conviction."

Igder was previously arrested on 29 August for taking part in an annual demonstration by relatives of political prisoners executed in 1988 on Ayatollah Khomeini's orders. The demonstrations had been banned that day. She was released from Evin prison on 10 September on payment of 1 billion rials (85,000 euros) in bail.

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