Sunday, November 06, 2005

Ex-official says Iran back to worst days of repression

Iran Focus:

Tehran, Iran, Nov. 05 – Iran has gone back to its worst days of social and cultural repression, according to a former deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance in charge of domestic media, who said that press freedoms had been reduced to the level of the mid-1990s.

Issa Saharkhiz told the Persian-language section of the German radio Deutsche Welle that following the appointment of veteran Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi as the new Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance there had been a return to the “era of the rule of the Saeed Emami’s faction”, referring to the former deputy head of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).

In the late 1990s, a series of gruesome murders of dissident journalists and writers, commonly known as the “chain murders”, were carried out throughout Iran. When rival factions feuding for power revealed the names of senior intelligence officials, including Emami, in the murders, the MOIS blamed the killings on “rogue agents”. During this time, hundreds of other vocal journalists were also purged and sentenced to serve jail time, among them dissident journalist Akbar Ganji who is presently serving the final months of his six-year term.

Saharkhiz, hinting at MOIS domination over the press, said that Emami’s faction had their own approach to what was printed in the media. He cited the banning of foreign films as an example of the crackdown on cultural freedoms. Women working for the ministry were being banned from entering their work offices, he added.

On press freedoms, Saharkhiz said that journals were being refused licences on various accounts and many journalists, and their immediate relatives, were being harassed. Journalists who did not fall in the conservative’s camp were suddenly being charged with having “illicit relationships” – a criminal offence in Islamic Iran. The crackdown, he said, was like a “rolling snowball” – constantly on the increase.

The former official in charge of Iran’s press said that under the hard-line approach, people in Iran were generally divided into two groups – “those with us or against us”. “They made false legal cases for everyone [speaking out] except their own”, Saharkhiz said.

“The old faction is back now”, he said, adding that under international pressure it had been unable to fully implement all its repressive policies. “But if pressure on them is decreased, we will witness them physically tear apart our writers and artistic and cultural activists and make them disappear in the future”.

Earlier this year, Saharkhiz had a run-in with the current Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojjatol-Islam Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ezhei, who was reported to have thrown a sugar pot at him and bit him on the shoulder after he publicly criticised hard-line measures being implemented.


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