Iran closes newspaper and magazine critical of government

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

TEHRAN -- Iran closed a leading newspaper and magazine critical of the government on Monday, further silencing dissenting voices in the Islamic republic after months of anti-government demonstrations.

The high-profile closures came a day after six journalists and opposition activists held for suspected involvement in the country's post-election turmoil were released on bail, Iranian news media reported. Dozens of others remain in jail, opposition sources said.

The daily newspaper Etemaad, or Trust, and the weekly magazine IranDokht were banned until further notice by the Press Supervisory Board, a media watchdog council led by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The board closed Etemaad for going beyond "the limits of the press," the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Although the board said the paper was "temporarily banned," previous such closures in practice have dragged on indefinitely.

Etemaad, which often criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration, was loosely affiliated with the political opposition, which advocates more individual rights for Iranians. It had a high circulation and was widely seen as the most influential, semi-independent news source still allowed to publish.

According to the board's ruling, the paper violated a part of the country's press code that, among other things, prohibits media from mentioning ethnic differences, accusing officials or insulting Islamic sanctities.

Etemaad's editor, Elias Hazrati, said the deputy minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Mohammad Ali Ramin, had been attempting to close the newspaper for weeks.

"He hinted on numerous occasions that our paper propagates secularism and is not faithful to the principles of the revolution," Hazrati, a former member of parliament, said in an interview. Etemaad had been publishing for eight years, unusual in a country where newspapers that criticize authorities are often closed.

A court must now legalize the council's decision, potentially a lengthy process. Meanwhile, the paper is not allowed to publish.

The Press Supervisory Board also closed IranDokht magazine by revoking its publishing license. The magazine's license is held by the wife of Mehdi Karroubi, one of the leaders of the political opposition. According to the board, the magazine was "not committed to the constitution," ISNA reported.

The detained journalists who were released Sunday included Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Abdolreza Tajik and Mohammad Javad Mozaffar, the Bahar daily and other newspapers reported Monday.

Activists Ali Hekmat and Behrang Tonekaboni were also freed late Sunday, as was retired Tehran University law professor Mohammad Sadegh Rabbani, who had been detained for two months.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company