Iran: New Daily Suspends Publication after Ministry Warning
Officials' quick intervention has fueled suspicion that they simply won't tolerate a moderate voice on Iranian newsstands.
The ministry's warning came in a letter that said the "Ruzgar" license does not include political coverage and thus prohibits it from publishing political news.
In the face of that threat, its managers decided to suspend publication after just three issues.
A "Ruzgar" editor, Abdolreza Tajik, told AFP that the decision to suspend publication was made after warnings to avoid politics and to change the newspaper's format.
"Ruzgar" politics staffer Mohammad Atrianfar accused the Culture Ministry of "tightening the noose [on] reformists." He said that at least two other conservative papers with similar licenses, "Hamshahri" and "Jame Jam," cover political events.
More than 100 reformist and moderate publications have been shut down by Iranian authorities in recent years. Atrianfar headed the policymaking committee of the now-defunct reformist daily "Shargh," and he noted that authorities still have not announced legal reasons for that newspaper's closure.
The "Ruzgar" launch had been characterized as the entry of a moderate daily to a market that has witnessed many closures. More than 100 reformist and moderate publications have been shut down by Iranian authorities in recent years.
"Shargh" was one of the most recent closures, and most of the "Ruzgar" staff comprises former "Shargh" contributors. Mashalloah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent journalist and former editor of four banned dailies, is also a spokesman for the Society to Defend Press Freedom. He tells RFE/RL that the targeting of "Ruzgar" demonstrates that powerful conservatives will not tolerate criticism or dissent.
"Our friends should have come to the conclusion by now that [conservatives] are opposed to the intellectual current of 'Shargh' and 'Ruzgar' and not to their mastheads. Conservatives are only satisfied with a single-voice media that is led by the establishment, so they will fight any effort to bring different voices to the media. One example is the fact that they couldn't even tolerate the very moderate publications 'Shargh' and 'Ruzgar.'"
"Ruzgar" was launched as a 24-page color daily. Representatives had insisted it was not meant to be a substitute for "Shargh." But just weeks before its launch, a conservative daily reported that "Shargh" was returning to publication under the new title "Ruzgar."
A moderate news website, roozna.ir, has cast doubt on the ministry's claim, saying
Reza Moini is an
"[On October 18] we said in a statement about three other publications whose journalists have been harassed that the Islamic republic uses all the possibilities and tools at its disposal to prevent publications and journalists from expressing themselves freely," Moini says. "[The "Ruzgar"] case is the same. The excuse that the publication should not have political pages is really laughable."
RSF notes that six journalists have been arrested in
Moini tells RFE/RL that state pressure on journalists is resulting in harassment and self-censorship.
"When they arrest a journalist and then put him under interrogation and then free him on a heavy bail -- but he can be sent back to prison at any time -- how can he work?" Moini asks. "There isn't only self-censorship -- this is imposed censorship."
Officials have not yet reacted to the suspension of the "Ruzgar" printrun, and the daily's managers have not said whether it will return.
The European Union roundly criticized