Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Freedom of the press and of expression continued to suffer in 2003, adversely affected by a renewed crackdown on independent media following a series of anti-regime protests in June. While the constitution provides for press freedom except when published ideas are "contrary to Islamic principles, or are detrimental to public rights," in practice the government severely restricts this right, mostly by way of the Press Law and its associated bodies, the Press Supervisory Board and the Press Court. In spite of this oppressive environment, independent print media are robust and critical of government policies. As a result, since 2000 about 100 newspapers and magazines have been shut down for varying lengths of time, and the circulation of pro-reform newspapers has fallen from a peak of more than 3 million to just over 1 million. In 2003, several reformist newspapers were closed and suspended, including the leading reformist dailies Hayat-e-No and Hamshari, as well as Avay-e-koredstan, the first Kurdish-language newspaper banned in Iran. Many reformist newspapers shuttered by the government have turned to the Internet as a freer medium. Consequently, the government began systematically censoring Internet content for the first time in 2003, setting up a commission dominated by religious hardliners to accomplish this task in January. The government directly controls all broadcast media and succeeded in jamming broadcasts by dissident satellite stations during and following the June demonstrations. Journalists are subjected to harsh prison sentences, exorbitant fines, and even the death penalty for violating vaguely worded laws that, among other offenses, prohibit insulting Islam or criticizing the Islamic revolution and its Supreme Leader. Self-censorship is widely practiced as a result. The Press Court sentenced dozens of journalists, mostly pro-reformists, to prison throughout the year. Iran has the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the Middle East; by year's end, 11 journalists were behind bars in Iranian prisons (down from a peak of 22 in July), according to Reporters Without Borders. In an incident that drew international condemnation, Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was bludgeoned to death in prison in July after being arrested while taking photographs outside Evin Prison in Tehran. After offering conflicting explanations for Kazemi's death, the government buried Kazemi in Iran against the wishes of her family, prompting Canada to withdraw its Iranian ambassador. In October, government officials announced that Kazemi's death was the responsibility of a lone intelligence ministry agent, a conclusion that elicited further condemnation from the press freedom community.