Thursday, May 25, 2006

Political Manoeuvre Seen in Newspaper's Closure, Arrest of Editor and Cartoonist

Reporters Without Borders:
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the closure of the governmental daily Iran yesterday for “inciting ethnic divisions and called for the release of Mehrdad Qassemfar, the editor of its Friday supplement, and Mana Neyestani, one of his cartoonists, who are being held in Evin prison on the orders of Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi. READ MORE

The moves against the newspaper follow a series of angry demonstrations by members of Iran’s ethnic Azeri minority in Tabriz and other towns in the northwestern province of East Azerbaijan, which were set off by a cartoon in the newspaper’s supplement on 12 May.

“These two journalists are convenient scapegoats for a government that has been scared by large-scale protests,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The cartoons published by the newspaper Iran may have lit the initial fuse, but the protests of the past few days in Tabriz were directed at the government’s policies towards the population of this multi-ethnic province. Qassemfar and Neyestani have been thrown in prison simply because it suits the authorities.”

The children’s section of the 12 May supplement included a cartoon of a cockroach asking “What?” in the Azeri language. After several street protests, the newspaper (which is owned by the official news agency Irna) said it apologised to all those who took offence and announced that Neyestani had been fired.

More than 50 people were arrested during an anti-government demonstration by thousands of Azeris on 22 May in Tabriz outside the headquarters of the governor of East Azerbaijan province.

Iran is the Middle East’s biggest prison for the press, with a total of eight journalists and webloggers currently detained. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are on a list of 38 leading predators of press freedom worldwide which Reporters Without Borders compiles each year.