The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the decision by the Iranian authorities to close the offices of Arab satellite television channel in Tehran as a “spiteful act of censorship.”
The IFJ was responding to the decision by the Iranian authorities who accuse Al-Jazeera of stirring up unrest that led to recent disturbances in the southwest of the country and the arrest of 200 people.
“This closure is a spiteful act of censorship and a blatant attempt by the authorities to make media the scapegoat for civil unrest,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “If Iran has complaints about media standards it should seek professional redress, not take action that undermines press freedom and pluralism.”
At least one person died after Arab-Iranians went on the rampage in the city of Ahvaz, near the border with Iraq, at the weekend. Government officials say the violence in Iran’s traditional oil-producing heartland was sparked by a forged letter, apparently from a senior official, discussing the relocation of ethnic Arabs from the area.
Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi claimed people behind the incident have ties to “anti-government (television) channels.” But Al-Jazeera denies any involvement and says that the closure of its office is unwarranted and intends to stick by its ethical editorial policies.
The IFJ says that the ban on Al-Jazeera should be lifted and the office re-opened. “It looks as though the authorities are seeking a scapegoat for their own troubles,” said White. “They would do better to respect the principles of pluralism and press freedom. If there are problems of professional ethics they should be dealt with in a democratic manner, not by arbitrary bans and closures.”
The Al-Jazeera interview of the Popular Democratic Front of Ahawazi Arabs in Iran, a London-based organization which is forbidden in the country and has denounced “80 years of Iranian occupation in Khuzestan”, has apparently sparked the retaliation of the authorities. The government has denied the authenticity of a document quoted by the Front’s representative, which was referring to alleged plans to revise the ethnic composition of the area.
“Al-Jazeera coverage of the events respected a strictly journalistic and balanced view of opinions, which by no means signified the adhesion of the media itself to the position of the interviewees” said White. "Al-Jazeera is doing no more than its counterpart organizations around the world and such an attempt to stifle their work represents an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression”.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries