Systematic harassment of the Association of Iranian Journalists by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government took a new turn on 24 June when labour minister Mohammad Jahromi threatened to dissolve the organisation.
“This is yet another attempt by the Iranian authorities to silence those who defend free expression in Iran,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is vital that journalists should be able to meet, form unions and practice their profession freely. We urge the authorities to allow the Association of Iranian Journalists to continue operating.”
In a 24 June letter to the association, the labour minister said it was “illegal” and could be closed down soon. The authorities have been pressing for the removal of the association's executive committee - which has been in place since 2006 - on the grounds of alleged procedural irregularities in the voting held during its general assemblies.
The association's officials have also been pressured to include pro-government journalists in its decision-making bodies.
The association's spokesperson, Mashalah Shamassolvaezin, told Reporters Without Borders that “several letters were sent to the Iranian authorities to try to resolve these problems and find a legal way to correct the flaws in the statutes, but no answer was received.” The association also filled a petition before an administrative court in an attempt to maintain the existing executive committee, but it was rejected in April.
Created in 1997 at the start of reformist President Mohammad Khatami's term of office, the association currently has 4,000 members. Several pro-government journalists tried unsuccessfully to take control in August 2006. This independent body, the only national organisation defending journalists, has since then been in open conflict with the Ahmadinejad government.
The Iranian authorities have been hounding civil society since 2005 and dozens of organisations have been banned. The interior ministry tried in August 2006 to ban the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, which 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi helped to found and currently heads. The centre plays a key role in defending free expression in Iran.