Saturday, June 10, 2006

Iran Intensifies Censorship on Books

Shervin Omidvar, Rooz Online:
Iran's hardline ministry of culture recently announced that the private sector would be responsible for book reviews and censorship of books through controlling what is published. The so-called private sector consists of friends and supporters of Saffar Harandi, the ultra-hardline culture minister. Based on a new plan, instead of the ministry, 20 companies will be responsible for issuing permits for books to be published. These licenses will be issued to publishing houses in the country. READ MORE

Before former President Khatami's administration in 1988, Alireza Mokhtarpour, Ahmadinejad's current deputy for press affairs at the culture ministry established a ‘special bureau on books’ which not only created a list of writers who were banned from writing but also censored and removed parts of the best Iranian classics in literature such as the works of Hafez, Saadi, Molana were written centuries ago.

Until a few months after the presidency of president Khatami, the ‘special bureau’ continued its operations. Mohajerani, the then minister of culture permitted a large number of banned books to be reprinted. Mohajerani who was a reformer and a moderate, ordered the bureau to review the books and issue permanent licenses for them. This was at about the same time that a new book law was drafted and proposed to the cabinet for approval. The highlight of the proposed law was that it quietly removed the pre-publishing review and licensing requirements of books. But the government never proposed the idea to Majlis (Iranian government), never becoming law.

Observers had expected that the appointment of hardline Saffar Harandi, a former extremist Keyhan newspaper editor and a believer in the idea of the "western cultural invasion", to the position of minister of culture would lead to the era of censorship, severe cultural restrictions, especially book publishing. It didn't take long for that assumption to materialize.

The news regarding the ministry's decision to transfer its traditional role of censoring what is published to 20 private companies is viewed as a new mechanism for restricting the publishing industry. Conservative Fars and Mehr news agencies quoted Hamidzadeh that the number of private companies involved in this practice would increase to a 100 in Tehran and different Iranian provinces by the end of the current Iranian year, on March 20th, 2007. He claimed that these companies would assist the ministry in its task of issuing permits for book publication.

Some news indicates that the core idea of relegating the task of book publishing initially came from a government-affiliated association that calls itself "Pen Association". In an act that may signal the arrival of a competitor with the independent ‘Iran Writers Centre’, Pen Association is comprises pro-government writers. Unlike Iran Writers Centre whose members have been arrested, tortured and even killed, and its activities the target of bans and severe restrictions of both the Pahlavi monarchy and the Islamic republic, Pen Association enjoys the government's support and privileges. One of its members has even been promoted as deputy minister of culture.

The hardline ministry has also proposed another project which would create legal problems for writers. The new law would require that a writer as an occupation would require a work permit. So under the new rules, anybody who wished to write something for the purpose publication or to publish, would first have to obtain a permit from government officials.