Work Of Independent Journalist Stymied By Tehran Iranian writer and editor Issa Saharkhiz is deeply involved with reformist politics and is a critic of the Islamic republic and its leaders. He has been brought to court for his journalism, and his passport has been seized. Still, he remains in Iran and hopes to continue his work.
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Work Of Independent Journalist Stymied By Tehran

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Work Of Independent Journalist Stymied By Tehran

Work Of Independent Journalist Stymied By Tehran

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

NPR correspondent Mike Shuster is also here in Tehran and he's been talking with a newspaper editor who has worked for many of those papers that have now disappeared.

MIKE SHUSTER: Issa Saharkhiz is out of work, out of work that he loves. Two years ago the authorities here shut down a daily newspaper that he ran, Economic News, and his monthly intellectual magazine called Aftab, or Sun. They were very popular. Saharkhiz is a well-known journalist in Iran, an editor and writer deeply involved with reformist politics, often quite critical of the Islamic Republic and its leaders. And this was hardly the first time Saharkhiz's work had been shut down.

Mr. ISSA SAHARKHIZ (Former Newspaper Editor): I worked for almost ten papers during the last eight years. Unfortunately, all of them were closed by the court or the government. Two years ago they sent me to the court, some punishment for me, four years jail, five years banning in press activity, also closing the two papers.

SHUSTER: There's a special court for the press in Iran and that's the mechanism the Iranian government has used to control the press. The court shut Saharkhiz down the last time because he gave a speech in which he praised the student movement of 1999 and criticized Iran's supreme leader. The court accused one of his papers of working for America and being an enemy of Iran. That's enough to anger the authorities and find your offices shuttered when you turn up for work one day. Saharkhiz wasn't the only journalist who has clashed with the authorities, he readily admits.

Mr. SAHARKHIZ: In press situation, almost all of the papers that belong to independent person or coverage of the reformist matters were closed.

SHUSTER: Independent journalists in Iran have been struggling to keep their papers going for at least a decade, not just since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president four years ago. Dozens of magazines and newspapers were shut down during the much more tolerant administration of Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2005. The judiciary in Iran is independent of the president and Khatami was unable to prevent the court's action against the press. Now there are only two newspapers that could be called independent or moderately reformist, and they steer a careful path to keep clear of the court. And it's not just journalism that is struggling in Iran, says Saharkhiz.

Mr. SAHARKHIZ: A huge pressure was on the women's movement, the student movement, that almost all of them that was independent and not government position were closed.

SHUSTER: Once, many years ago, Issa Saharkhiz worked for Iran's government in the Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture overseeing the press. Now a prison sentence hangs over his head, imposed by the press court. So far he's been able to stay out a jail cell.

Mr. SAHARKHIZ: The court (unintelligible) four years jail, but until now they didn't go for capturing me and sending me to the Evin or so…

SHUSTER: Evin is Tehran's notorious prison. It's not clear why Saharkhiz hasn't had to serve his sentence. The authorities may feel that banning him from journalism is the best punishment, although he still writes for Web sites both here and outside Iran. They've also taken his passport, so he cannot travel. He says they were return it if he agreed to leave the country for good. Other journalists and activists have left the country, but he refuses to do that.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tehran.

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