The Iranian press continued to suffer severe restrictions. Criticism of prominent government officials and the ideals of the Islamic revolution remain forbidden topics for journalists, and transgressors face swift reprisal, including prosecution or banishment from their profession. The sweeping provisions of the press law empower the state to fine, censor, or imprison outspoken journalists for publishing "false information" or news that "harms national interests." The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Affairs actively monitors publications to ensure that journalists abide by the law.
Still, the May election of reformist cleric Mohammad Khatemi as president was cause for a modest degree of optimism. After taking office, Khatemi called for an end to censorship of books, newspapers, and other publications. Initial reports indicate the government has in fact eased the practice and has also granted licenses to dozens of new publications while allowing previously banned publications to resume publishing. To what extent Khatemi's liberal ideals can effect change remains to be seen in 1998.
Faraj Sarkoohi, the imprisoned editor in chief of the monthly literary magazine Adineh, was freed on January 28, 1998, after serving a one-year sentence imposed in September for "spreading propaganda." The charge stemmed from a letter he smuggled out of Iran, describing his detention and torture in 1996. Sarkoohi's release was the culmination of a 13-month ordeal that began with his "disappearance" at Tehran airport on November 3, 1996, while on his way to Germany. In 1994, Sarkoohi had been one of 134 writers and intellectuals who petitioned the Iranian government for an end to censorship and for official efforts to foster greater free expression.
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