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EDITIONS
Friday, 9 August, 2002, 20:08 GMT 21:08 UK
Iran's banned press turns to the net
Nourooz website
The banned Nourooz continues on the internet

With Iran's conservative judiciary continuing its two-year crackdown on the pro-reform press, publications are now turning to the internet to bypass the bans.


Technology always wins, and therefore the closure of reformist newspapers is useless when there is the internet

Iranian web journalist
Several news websites have sprung up in the past few weeks, some direct replacements of banned newspapers.

The authorities will find it harder to police the internet effectively, although the new sites might have to relocate abroad to circumvent censorship.

Estimates suggest there are about two million Iranians with access to the internet.

"Technology always wins, and therefore the closure of reformist newspapers is useless when there is the internet," a journalist working for one of the sites told Reuters news agency on Monday.

Mixed content

A feature article in the New York Times noted this week: "Perhaps surprisingly, the internet is not censored in Iran, and its citizens are quickly building online communities where unmarried lovers are not arrested, where youths in Western dress are not harassed and where uncovered women are not punished."

At least five Iranian news-based websites have been opened by pro-reformists in the last fortnight, two of them in place of the recently banned dailies Bonyan and Nourooz.

The new sites offer a mix of opinions and "behind-the-scenes revelations", in addition to news and analysis.


Iranian courts have continued their resolute intimidation of the reformist media so as to stifle all public debate and thus protect their interests

Reporters Sans Frontieres statement
The hardliners who control Iran's state TV and radio and many newspapers accuse the new sites of spreading "lies" and exceeding socially accepted norms.

If the spate of newspaper closures is a yardstick, those behind the new sites can expect similar measures to be taken against them. In that case, they could resort to setting up mirror sites based abroad, where they would be beyond the reach of even the most zealous conservative Iranian forces.

'Intimidation'

The moves against pro-reform media began in April 2000 after an attack by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i, who called the reformist press "bases of the enemy".

Coinciding with Journalists' Day in Iran on 8 August, officials closed down another reformist newspaper.

Nourooz edition showing where banned article should have run
Censorship like this has not yet reached cyberspace
The press court banned Ruz-e Now (New Day) merely because its name was similar to a reformist paper banned last month. The publication had obtained permission to start publishing next week.

The Tehran daily Ayineh-e Jonub (Mirror of the South), launched nationwide only a week previously, was closed for allegedly publishing articles contrary to the law and spreading propaganda against the Islamic revolution.

It was formerly published once a week in the southern province of Bushehr, but broadened its distribution nationally as a daily on 1 August.

Recently, the judiciary has also threatened to prosecute Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency for printing a statement by the recently banned opposition party, the Iran Freedom Movement.

Liberals jailed

The press guild, Defence for Press Freedom, recalled in a statement on 7 August that since April 2000 more than 60 publications have been closed and dozens of liberal activists jailed.

The judiciary is dominated by conservative clerics waging a power struggle against the reformist policies of President Mohammad Khatami.

Up to 10 journalists are currently believed to be imprisoned in Iran.

Earlier this month the Paris-based media freedom watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontieres, deplored the fact that since May 2002, "four journalists have been sentenced to prison terms, a dozen publications have been suspended and Iranian courts have continued their resolute intimidation of the reformist media so as to stifle all public debate and thus protect their interests".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

11 Jul 02 | Middle East
28 May 02 | Media reports
28 Jun 00 | Middle East
24 Apr 00 | Middle East
08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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