Iran bans paper for 'interviewing homosexual'

Tehran - Iran on Monday shut down a leading moderate daily for the second time in less than a year after the paper published an interview with a woman accused of being a "counter-revolutionary" homosexual.

The ban on Shargh (East), the favourite newspaper of Iranian liberals, comes amid growing pressure on the press in Iran and follows the closure of fellow moderate daily Ham Mihan last month.

"The main reason for the ban was an interview with a counter-revolutionary who promotes immorality," Alireza Malekian, the director of press in the culture ministry, told the state-run IRNA news agency.

Shargh on Saturday published a full-page interview with Saghi Ghahreman, an expatriate Iranian poet who lives in Canada, under the headline "Feminine Language."

"We had an article which was an interview with an expatriate writer. They said she had moral problems, they say she is homosexual and promotes that in her weblog," Mehdi Rahmanian, Shargh's licence holder and managing director, told AFP.

"But we talked to her as a poet," he added.

Malekian said it was now up to the judiciary to decide in court whether the ban should be permanent and take any other necessary decisions.

"The press watchdog voted for the ban by examining an article which involves a counter-revolutionary person who promotes immorality. This person is a known element who even promotes immorality in her cyber publication," he said.

Ghahreman is the editor of a website called "Cheragh" (Lantern) which focuses on Iranian lesbian and gay issues.

But Shargh's lawyer Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabai said: "Interviewing an individual cannot be a reason for closure when there is no vice in that interview.

"The reason for the ban is unlawful because the judiciary has not protested against the individual who was interviewed," he said, according to the ISNA news agency.

The hardline daily Kayhan, known for its repeated attacks on the moderate press, said in its Monday edition that Ghahreman was head "of the Iranian homosexuals organisation" and a "counter-revolutionary fugitive."

"Media observers believe that Shargh has interviewed this homosexual while aware of her sick sexual identity, dissident views and porno-personality," it added.

Homosexuality is strictly illegal in the Islamic republic and homosexual sex is theoretically punishable by death. However the extent to which gays are pursued in practice is highly debatable.

Shargh had only returned to the news-stands in May after serving a nine-month ban for publishing a cartoon deemed offensive to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The paper on Monday published a front-page apology for the interview, saying it had been "unaware of this person's personal traits" and would in future "avoid such people and movements."

Ghahreman made no explicit reference to homosexuality in the interview, but said that "sexual boundaries must be flexible... The immoral is imposed by culture on the body."

Iran's moderate press enjoyed a brief flowering during the rule of reformist President Mohammad Khatami which was stunted by a spate of closures, a trend that has continued under his successor Ahmadinejad.

Ham Mihan, directed by former Tehran mayor Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, was shut down on July 3 less than two months after the authorities allowed it to reappear after a seven-year ban.

Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi has also denounced a "creeping coup in the press" while the authorities last month banned the moderate labour news agency ILNA.

Shargh's closure leaves the dailies Etemad Melli (National Confidence), Etemad (Confidence) and the economic daily Sarmayeh (Capital) as the chief remaining voices of moderates in the press.

Published on the Web by IOL on 2007-08-06 13:18:43