Monday, August 21, 2006

Iran Wants Clampdown on Press Criticism

Iran's government has urged the judiciary to clamp down on newspapers which spread "lies", but opposition lawmakers said officials should not fear criticism, newspapers reported on Monday.

The press has been a major political battleground in Iran since the late 1990s. The conservative-controlled judiciary has closed down more than 100 liberal reformist publications since then, although a few have survived.

"Those who spread lies against the government should be prosecuted," government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said in a letter sent on Saturday to Tehran public prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, newspapers reported. READ MORE

"Those who spread lies should give their documents (to prove their case) to the judiciary and the judiciary should decisively follow the case," he wrote.

Prosecutions against the media have not, as many analysts feared, increased noticeably since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to office a year ago and some newspapers have dared to question the president's spending programme.

Opposition lawmakers said the government should not be sensitive to criticism.

"The government spokesman's letter shows that the government prefers the year-long silence of its opponents to continue so that its failures are not revealed to the people," reformist MP Valiollah Shojapourian was quoted as saying in the daily Kargozaran.

Darioush Ghanbari, a member of parliament's foreign policy committee said: "The recent letter of the government spokesman has been written to restrict the field of activity of those papers which criticise the government and it threatens the freedom of the press."

Elham said Ahmadinejad's administration had no intention of censoring the media.

"The government welcomes criticism and assessment of its work by the media. It defends the free circulation of information and opposes censorship, self-censorship and government pressure on the media," Elham was quoted as saying by the official news agency IRNA on Monday.

Authorities have started to enforce a widely flouted ban on satellite dishes, blamed for beaming Western "decadent" images into the Islamic Republic.