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)
Press freedom in Iran deteriorated further in 2004. The regime's crackdown on reformist publications and journalists continued, with this year's arrests, detentions, harassments, and closings focused increasingly on Internet-based media. 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. The 2000 press law established a Press Supervisory Board mandated to ban publications that defame Islam or the Supreme Leader, damage "the foundation of the Islamic Republic" or national security, publish libel against "lawfully respected" officials or institutions, or quote articles from "the deviant press, parties, and groups which oppose Islam." The penal code assigns punishments of harsh prison terms, exorbitant fines, floggings, and even the death penalty for violating such vaguely worded laws. As a result, self-censorship is common. Iran's subservient judiciary frequently denies accused journalists due process by referring their cases to closed-door revolutionary courts, and the Preventive Restraint Act is used regularly to temporarily ban publications without legal proceedings. Since 2000, over 100 newspapers have been banned and more than 50 journalists have been detained-14 of whom remain in prison, according to Reporters sans frontieres.
Traditionally, independent print media in Iran are robust and critical of government policies despite this repressive environment; however, recent government crackdowns have dampened media vigor. Suppression of the media accelerated during the run-up to the February parliamentary elections, from which a large number of reformist candidates had been barred. Numerous newspapers and journalists were threatened for covering a sit-in by reformists in front of the parliament, and the reformist dailies Yas-e-No and Sharq were suspended temporarily for publishing parts of a letter from reformist politicians to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. After many Yas-e-No journalists began writing for the reformist daily Vaghayeh Ettefaghieh, it too was suspended in July, along with the daily Jomhouriat and the monthly Aftab. These developments prompted a sit-in by over 250 people outside the Association of Iranian Journalists in Tehran, as well as a one-day hunger strike by many journalists in August. During 2004, several reformist print journalists were arrested and/or sentenced because of their work; sentences included lengthy prison terms and harsh fines. Foreign journalists were also subject to harassment; New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reported that Iranian secret police detained him in May in an effort to discover one of his antigovernment sources. In July, an intelligence officer was acquitted of the "semi-intentional murder" of Canadian-Iranian photographer Zahra Kazemi in 2003.
The government directly maintains a monopoly over all broadcast media, which presents only official political and religious viewpoints. While satellite dishes that receive foreign broadcasts are forbidden, an increasing number of Iranians own them. In recent years, many newspapers shuttered by the government have turned to the Internet as a freer medium. However, the government began systematically censoring Internet content in 2003, and 2004 saw a massive crackdown on Internet journalists, Web sites, and blogs. Close to parliamentary elections in February, an official draft Law on the Punishment of Crimes Linked to the Internet was published in the newspaper Iran. The law includes provisions for long prison sentences and large fines for offenses similar to those detailed in the press law and mandates strict monitoring requirements for cybercafes and Internet service providers on pain of banning and/or imprisonment. During the year, many Internet journalists were arrested and Web sites shut down; according to Human Rights Watch, in the last four months of the year, more than 20 such journalists were arrested and "held in a secret detention center in Tehran." Although most had been released by year's end, they continued to face harassment from the authorities. In a notable development in December, four Internet journalists who had been tortured while in detention were ordered by the chief prosecutor of Tehran to serve as witnesses in the trial of Association of Iranian Journalists president Ali Mazroi. Mazroi had accused the judiciary of torturing and secretly detaining journalists and was charged with libel shortly thereafter. Facing lengthy prison sentences if they did not comply, the four "witnesses" appeared at the trial on the same day they were coerced to deny, on Iranian state television, that they had been subjected to solitary confinement, torture, and ill-treatment during their detentions.