The Iranian revolutionary government today ordered the expulsion of the Tehran bureau chief of The New York Times in what appeared to be a renewed effort to restrict reporting by foreign correspondents.
The Ministry of National Guidance ordered Youssef Ibrahim, the New York Times correspondent, to leave Iran at the "first opportunity," and warned that any correspondent applying for a visa to Iran will have to undergo a "screening" by Iranian embassies abroad before being admitted.
The United States expressed its regret about the Iranian government's decision to expel Ibrahim, a State Department official in Washington said today.
[The message was conveyed to high Iranian government officials by the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the official said.]
Ibrahim was the second American correspondent to be expelled from Iran since the revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in mid-February.
David Lamb, a correspondent of the Los Angeles Times, was ordered expelled on July 1 because of articles the provisional government said were unfavorable to the revolution.
The latest expulsion apparently reflected increasing government sensitivity about coverage of Iran's troubles. Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan has acknowledged that the country faces grave problems. He disclosed in a nationally televised speech Thursday that 11 of his 17 Cabinet ministers recently had threatened to resign.
Ibrahim, a 30-year-old naturalized American of Egyptian origin, was told he could not file dispatches while he remains in Iran to close out his personal affairs. He has been The Times' bureau chief in Tehran since December.
Ibrahim said he was given no specific indication of what had offended the government.
The government indicated that the Times could send a replacement, but warned that all foreign reporters seeking entry into Iran will be limited to six-month visits and that their visas will be reviewed upon periodic screening of their dispatches.
The government has also summoned The Washington Post. Immediately upon my return today froma three-day reporting trip to the troubled province of Khuzestan, I was summoned to a meeting at 8:30 a.m. Monday with Ali Behzadnia, director general for foreign press in the Ministry of National Guidance. Behzandnia would give no indication of the purpose of themeeting.
Oil-rich Khuzestan has been the center of recent clashes between revolutionary guardsmen and autonomy=seeking Arabs. The Ministry of National Guidance had questioned in advance the purpose of my visit there in issuing me press credentials after my arrival in Tehran for a temporary assignment.
The terse, two-paragraph letter handed to Ibrahim said. "The Ministry of National Guidance of the Provisional Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran informs you that from the date of receipt of this note you can no longer operate as New York Times correspondent in Iran. On the first opportunity that will not cause inconvenience, you will leave Iran."
Ibrahim was summoned to the ministry at 8:30 a.m. today by Behzadnia who, according to Ibrahim, said, "We are unhappy with your reporting."
When Ibrahim asked what the government objected to specifically, Behzadnia replied, "We don't have to give any reasons, but we are unhappy with your reporting in general."
In New York, a Times statement said Ibrahim had done an "excellent, objective job of reporting before and after the revolution, often under difficult circumstances."
The Times did not say immediately whether Ibrahim would be replaced, but expressed hope that Iran would "soon return to a policy of allowing...correspondents to do their work freely in that country, according to commonly accepted international standrrds."
Significantly, Behzadnia said the expulsion order was a joint decision by the Ministry of National Guidance and the Foreign Ministry. Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi has been outspokenly critical of foreign press coverage of the government's turbulent first five months in power and has hinted that controls on foreign press coverage would be applied.
Behzadnia complained to Ibrahim not only about the tone of foreign coverage, but about Persian papers as well, particularly Ayandegan, a morning newspaper that has been critical of government policies. Behzadnia said there was "a lot of pressure" by the Iranian people to curtail critical press coverage.
Ibrahim's meeting with Behzadnia was reported almost immediately by the state-owned Radio Iran.
"The reason for Ibrahim's expulsion is that, in general, his activities have made us andother concerned institutions expel him. Usually we give a warning but this time we did not warn him, we just told him to leave the country." Behzadnia said in a broadcast statement.
He added: "People who follow Ibrahim's line will definitely be prevented from carrying out their activities."
Ministry of National Guidance officials, in discussions with foreign correspondents, frequently have alluded to a new press code being prepared for visiting reporters.
The code is to formally spell out requirements that reporters always be accompanied by ministry officials when conducting interviews and that newspapers print government rebutals to offensive articles. If they refuse, their correspondents may not remain in Iran, Behzadnia said. CAPTION: Picture, YOUSSEF IBRAHIM...N.Y. Times bureau chief