Human Rights

Official Censorship of Iranian Media Increases as Hopes for “Reformer” Rouhani Fade

Although hailed in the West as a potential reformer, the tenure of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has seen freedom of the press in Iran only deteriorate, according to both state officials and reports in the Iranian media.

Tehran MP Ali Motahari said on January 30 that under the Rouhani administration self-censorship has become more common in the media. He stressed that continued pressure from clerics aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the main cause of the strain on the media. Khamenei is the final authority in Iran, with Rouhani having only limited authority.

Motahari said in an interview with the Tasnim website that when the regime is reformist, there will be more pressure to prevent the government’s tendency toward opening the political atmosphere. He stressed that self-censorship becomes more prominent under these conditions as more and more publishing permits get revoked and newspapers shut down. Motahari added that Iran’s Press Supervisory Board has become irrelevant as press outlets are being closed by direct order from the government prosecutor without its input.

The Iranian judiciary has closed down several newspapers and publications without any consultation with the Press Supervisory Board. The two newspapers, Mardum Emruz and Ruzan, are just two of the many newspapers recently closed by the direct action of the Tehran prosecutor’s office.

Mardum Emruz was shut down by Iranian authorities for showing solidarity with the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The newspaper published a front page depicting George Clooney at the Golden Globes alongside the headline “I am Charlie, too”.

The Iranian news website IranWire observed in this context  (Persian link) that the closure points to Rouhani’s powerlessness to effect change in Iran.

“The battle over free expression has just begun in Iran, with Rouhani and his administration pitted against hardliners, who are deeply entrenched in both parliament and the judiciary. The closure of Mardum Emruz is a reminder of how bitter the fight will be, and illustrates how much power hardliners command.”

Last September, Canadian MP and human rights advocate Irwin Cotler observed that under Rouhani the Iranian “regime … continues to engage in massive repression.”

[Photo: V / Flickr]