IFJ Calls for Global Solidarity With Journalists in Iran as Courts Put Pressure on Press Freedom

The struggle for press freedom in Iran must become a top priority for journalists' worldwide says the International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' organisation, today in response to recent developments, which include the banning of pro-reform dailies and the imprisonment of editors and journalists.

"The struggle for editorial independence and press freedom is being fought by courageous journalists in Iran," said Aidan White, the IFJ General Secretary, "and journalists throughout the world must give them support as they challenge the violations of their rights by hardliners inside the country."

On July 11, Tehran's Press Court ordered the pro-reform daily Azad to cease publishing indefinitely because it had violated a government directive banning media commentary about the resignation of prominent cleric Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri.

Iran's Supreme National Security Council, which is headed by President Muhammad Khatami and includes other top government officials, had issued the directive a day earlier, on July 10, and instructed publishers not to take a position "for or against" Taheri.

The next day, Azad published a front-page story discussing Taheri's resignation and supporting critical statements the cleric had made about the government. The paper was banned later that day and has not appeared on newsstands since.

"These courts are not democratic and they undermine the movement towards respect for human rights, which journalists and others are supporting," said Aidan White. The IFJ affiliated Association of Iranian Journalists has consistently fought against the Victimisation of journalists by the country's clerical rulers who administer the judicial system.

On 24 July, a Tehran appeals court confirmed the banning of Norooz, Iran's main reformist daily, and the six-month jail sentence and four-year ban handed down to the paper's editor, Mohsen Mirdamadi. The Norooz case dates back to May when Iran's Press Court convicted leading reformist daily and its editor, Mohsen Mirdamadi, of insulting the state, publishing lies, and insulting Islamic institutions in articles the paper had published.

In recent days, there have been reports that Siamak Pourzand, a journalist and film critic who is serving 11 years in prison, had confessed to "treason" before Iranian news agencies. Pourzand was seen to have accepted all charges of treason and implicated other intellectuals of "anti-establishment" activities. He is said to have been in apparent distress as he asked for a pardon. Sources claim that this is part of a series of televised exposés where dissidents are forced to publicly confess to anti-government activities.

At least 49 Iranian publications have been closed since a crackdown on the press began in April 2000.

"Journalists around the world must join the campaign for press freedom in Iran," said Aidan White. "Our colleagues are in the vanguard of a struggle that touches the rights of media professionals everywhere."