PHOTO HUNT FOLLOWS
Much to George Galloway’s chagrin, today’s Independent continues with the anti Iranian “propaganda” by having the temerity to suggest that there may be limits to freedom of speech in Iran. This will make him particularly angry since not one news paper carried the story about a teenager who was told to shut up in Barnsley yesterday... But seriously, it would appear that attacks on free speech in Iran have become even more repressive and bizarre in recent times (if that were at all possible!)
The closure of newspapers and the jailing of journalists has become commonplace. Directives from the National Security Council containing the latest Islamic guidelines land on the desks of Iranian editors once or twice a week, and they are in no doubt that they must comply. But a recent classified directive broke new ground by decreeing in minute detail how to report on every story. Iranian sources say it is part of an almost surreal trend of censorship. Hadi Ghaemi, the New York-based co-ordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, calls it a "modern inquisition".
"The situation for literature is much worse," said a source. Yaghoub Yaadali, a 36-year-old television director, received a suspended jail sentence last summer on charges of "spreading lies, defamation and insulting a tribal minority". In his book, The Rules of Restlessness, a fictional character has an affair with a woman from an ethnic Bakhtiari village. It won Iran's highest honour for literature, the Golshiri award, in 2004. As with any other work, it was only published after obtaining permission from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. When he was sentenced to three months in jail, suspended for nine months, last September it caused a sensation in Iranian intellectual circles. His supporters were dumbstruck when, on appeal last month, the court toughened the sentence to actual imprisonment. "It's unheard of," said one Iranian. The writer was ordered to begin his sentence before the Iranian new year, (21 March) but hopes that if he completes the articles the jail time will be suspended.
The censor's verdict is even falling on new editions of published works. The Culture Ministry demands changes, and if the demand is not met, halts publication. One author of a children's book was told: "You wrote about a duck named 'Brave', but the duck isn't brave, the frog is brave." He responded that he couldn't change the title because it was translated from another language, and in any case it was a children's book. He also pointed out that it was the second edition. A television presenter got into hot water for writing a poem which said "in my dreams I think of you in the middle of the night" because of perceived sexual innuendo. The verse was removed.
On 6 March, the general director of public libraries, Mansour Vaezi, warned a conference of library directors that their libraries would be purged of inappropriate works. Academic freedom has also been severely restricted in the three years since President Ahmadinejad came to power. University faculty members deemed to be "problematic" are being forced into retirement, and even sacked.
Even a Tehran cleric, Hojatoleslam Hadi Ghabel, was ordered to be defrocked by a special court in the holy city of Qom, for criticising President Ahmadinejad and the spiritual leadership. He spent 47 days in jail awaiting trial and was given a three-year prison sentence. "This is a modern inquisition by the Islamic authorities," said Mr Ghaemi. "If they get away with it this time, there's no saying where it will end."