Iran: Reformist Newspapers Muzzled Before Election



(New York, February 19, 2004) -- Iran's judiciary should immediately reverse its order closing the last two newspapers associated with the country's reformers, Human Rights Watch said today. Chief Prosecutor Said Mortazavi yesterday ordered the closure of Sharq and Yas-e Nau ahead of parliamentary elections on February 20.


"These closures mark the final blow in the campaign against

the reformist press in Iran," said Joe Stork, acting

executive director of the Middle East and North Africa

division of Human Rights Watch. "The judiciary, which should protect basic rights like free expression, has again taken the lead in violating those rights."


The authorities moved against the two newspapers after they published excerpts from a letter circulated by over 100 members of parliament on February 17. The letter criticized Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for approving the Guardian Council's disqualification of more than 2,000 candidates from the upcoming parliamentary elections. The parliamentarians said that Khamenei himself was responsible for ensuring that the elections on Friday would not reflect the will of the people.


Chief Prosecutor Mortazavi has led a campaign to close down over 70 independent newspapers since April 2000, when he presided as a judge over the so-called "Press Court." Sharq [East] and Yas-e Nau [New Jasmine] were the only Iranian papers to publish any part of the parliamentarians' letter. Security agents under Mortazavi's authority surrounded the building of one paper to prevent distribution of editions containing excerpts from the parliamentarians' letter.


Human Rights Watch has urged members of the U.N. Commission

on Human Rights to pass a resolution at its annual session, which begins March 15, condemning the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran and reinstating a U.N. special rapporteur to monitor human rights developments in the country.




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