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Iranian government suspends reformist newspaper

Snapshot of Bahar newspaper

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns yesterday's decision by the Press Authorization and Surveillance Commission, which is run by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, to suspend the reformist daily Bahar for an article deemed to have “insulted Islam's sacred texts.”

RSF also deplores the long jail terms that a Tehran revolutionary court has passed on well-known documentary filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi and on actress and blogger Pegah Ahangarani. Mohammadi was notified of her five-year sentence on 23 October. Ahangarani was notified of her 18-month sentence yesterday.

“Despite moderate-conservative President Hassan Rouhani's election promises, the reformist newspaper Bahar's suspension shows that the regime's reform priorities are reducing tension with the international community, not reducing the suppression of freedoms or the persecution of news and information providers,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Confirming Bahar's suspension under article 12 of the press code over an article published on 23 October, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance accused the newspaper of “falsifying history” and “trying to create differences among the country's clerics.”

Headlined “Ali, the Shiites' first Imam, was a religious leader before being a political leader,” the article was fiercely criticized by media that support regime hardliners and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, which interpreted it as a criticism of Khamenei.

Bahar itself published several comments criticising the article in its next day's issue, along with an apology for its “grave error.” It even suspended publication for an indefinite period on its own initiative. But the hardline media are still campaigning for it to be closed down for good.

The filmmaker Mohammadi has been arrested twice in the past four years, on 29 July 2009 and 26 June 2011, each time spending a month in prison before freed on bail. Since then, she has been subject to constant harassment and has been summoned several times for questioning by intelligence ministry officials.

Ahangarani was arrested at her Tehran home by intelligence ministry officials on 10 July 2011 and was held for 17 days before being released on bail of 100 million toman (75,000 euros).

Meanwhile, in a report published on 23 October, Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, said the situation “continues to warrant serious concern, with no sign of improvement in the areas previously raised,” including the number of executions and violations of freedom of expression.

The Iranian government, which continues to ban Shaheed from visiting Iran, said the report, “describes the human rights situation in Iran in a completely unfair manner and with political motivations.”

Stressing that the government did not recognize the special rapporteur, foreign ministry spokesman Marzieh Afkham said in a statement carried by state radio and TV that Iran would not permit that “such partial reports become the measure by which the human rights situation in Iran is judged.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We urge the Iranian government to make a real break with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's policies, to cooperate unconditionally with the United Nations and to allow a visit by the special rapporteur. The international community must press the Iranian authorities to submit to the special rapporteur's mandate.”

RSF is also very concerned about two Kurdish journalists based in the western city of Mahamabad – Khosro Kourdpour, the editor of the news website Mokeryan, and his brother, Masoud Kourdpour, a reporter for the site – whose trial ended yesterday in Mahamabad.

The sentence has not yet been passed but the charges on which they were tried – “mohareb” (being an enemy of God), anti-government activities and propaganda, and publishing information about the situation of prisoners and human rights – carry the death penalty.

Arrested in early March, they were held illegally by the intelligence services for 111 days before being charged.

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