In certain respects, the press in Iran is among the liveliest in the Middle East. Newspapers and magazines regularly engage in substantive discourse on a variety of political, social, and economic issues affecting the Islamic Republic of Iran. But certain topics – namely, criticism of public officials and the ideals of the Islamic Revolution – are strictly off limits to journalists. In May, spiritual guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei alluded to these restrictions when he warned members of the press that the "principles of the revolution and the regime of the Islamic Republic is a red line that must be respected."

Those who dare to cross this so-called "red line" risk prosecution under the press law, which is frequently invoked to fine, censor, or imprison outspoken journalists. Iranian authorities – particularly the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Affairs – actively monitor newspapers in order to identify those who violate the law's many restrictive provisions, which include bans on the publication of false information and news that harms national interests.

In January, Abbas Maroufi, editor in chief of the monthly magazine Gardoon, received a six-month prison sentence and 35 lashes for "publishing lies" – the result of an article that described the 17-year-old Islamic Republic as a period of "depression" in the country's history. Maroufi, who was also slapped with a two-year ban on working as a journalist, eventually fled to Germany before the sentence could be enforced. Other notable incidents of state censorship in 1996 involved the radical daily Salam and the weekly newspaper Bahar. Both were temporarily suspended in March without explanation. Officials from the newspapers speculated that their criticisms of the government's handling of the March 8 parliamentary elections sparked the suspension.

January 27
Abbas Maroufi, Gardoon, LEGAL ACTION

A Tehran court sentenced Maroufi, editor in chief of the literary and cultural monthly Gardoon, to 35 lashes and six months in prison for "publishing lies" and insulting Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The court banned Maroufi from engaging in journalistic activities for two years. On July 10, it was reported that Maroufi, who was permitted to leave Iran without serving his sentence, is in Germany seeking political asylum.

March 6

An Iranian Special Clerical Court suspended the radical daily Salam for two days. The court gave no reason for the suspension, which came just before parliamentary elections. Journalists with the paper speculated that its suspension was retaliation for an interview in Salam criticizing the Council of Guardians, a body of clerics that oversees elections.

March 12

The weekly newspaper Bahar was suspended by an order of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance less than a month after it started its publication. The State Press Review Board, a special press screening committee, suspended the weekly until a "court hearing the case gives it verdict," for violating the country's press laws. No further reasons were given for this action. However, Bahar reportedly published articles implying that the spiritual guide of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, interfered in the process of determining the eligibility of candidates for the parliamentary election of March 8. A week earlier, authorities suspended the daily Salam for publishing the same article.

November 2
Hesmatollah Tabarzadi, Payam-e-Daneshjoue, IMPRISONED

Iranian authorities arrested Tabarzadi, the director of the radical weekly magazine Payam-e-Daneshjoue, for challenging a publication ban on the magazine. Tabarzadi was freed on bail Nov. 9. Payam-e-Daneshjoue is run by university students known for their tough criticism of President Mohamed Hashemi Rafsanjani and his government's controversial reform policies.

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