Reporters Without Borders condemns manoeuvres orchestrated by members of the regime and media close to the Revolutionary Guards with the aim of intimidating newspapers and journalists.
In the latest example, the reformist newspaper Shargh was suspended yesterday, its editor was detained for several hours and one of its cartoonists received a summons. And in a separate development, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, an advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and head of the state-owned news agency Irna, was arrested to begin serving a six-month jail sentence.
"Iranian officials are taking advantage of the international situation and the outcry about the video 'Innocence of Muslims' to target media and cartoonists in their own country," Reporters Without Borders said.
"Shargh's suspension is a powerful warning to the news media, while the arrest of the official news agency's head confirms that media and journalists are still falling victim to in-fighting between the regime's various clans."
A cartoon of men blindfolding each other in Shargh's 24 September issue was condemned the next day by media close to the Revolutionary Guards, led by Fars News, which described it as an "insult to war veterans” in a reference to Iran's war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988.
The criticism continued, with more than 120 parliamentarians demanding a "firm reaction" in a joint statement. Yesterday, the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mohammad Hosseini, convened an emergency meeting of the Commission for Press Authorization and Surveillance, which is attached to his ministry, and announced: "We are for the newspaper's closure."
Within hours, the newspaper had been closed on the commission's orders and the case had been transferred to the courts for prosecution.
Shargh editor Mehdi Rahmaniyan was summoned, detained and then released on bail of 50 million toman (50,000 euros) pending trial. The person who drew the cartoon, Hadi Hideri – one of the country's most famous cartoonists and the son of a war veteran – received a judicial summons despite explaining that its aim was to "denounce worldwide ignorance."
Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who heads the Iran press group as well as Irna, was arrested at his office and taken to Tehran's Evin prison to serve a six months sentence for publishing a supplement about the chador in the daily Iran on 13 August 2011 that sparked an outcry and led to the issue being banned.
A Tehran court originally sentenced Javanfekr on 20 November 2011 to a year in prison and a three-year ban on working as a journalist but the sentence was reduced to six months in prison on appeal.
Agence France-Presse said the charges on which Javanfekr was convicted were "insulting the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameni" and "publishing content that violated Islamic values and public decency."