The constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” The law states that anyone who undertakes any form of propaganda against the state may be imprisoned for as long as one year; the law does not define “propaganda.” The law also provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam; the latter offense is punishable by death. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and press, and it used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights issues. According to the CPJ, the government continued a campaign of press intimidation throughout the year.
Freedom of Speech: The law limited freedom of speech, including by members of the press. Individuals were not permitted to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the country’s judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, and often punished as well persons who publicly criticized the president, the cabinet, and the Islamic Consultative Assembly. The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of opposition members, reformists, activists, and human rights defenders. It often charged persons with crimes against national security and insulting the regime based on letters, e-mails, and other public and private communications. During the year there were cases of the government increasing prison sentences for prisoners who wrote open letters criticizing their treatment or other government practices.
For example, on February 20, a judge in Branch 15 of the revolutionary court sentenced imprisoned lawyer and Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) founding member Mohammad Seifzadeh to an additional six years’ imprisonment for “collusion against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system” in connection with a 2011 open letter that Seifzadeh wrote to former president Khatami criticizing the country’s judicial system. On September 29, opposition news website Kaleme published a letter from Seifzadeh advising that a Branch 54 appellate court judge upheld his sentence.
Blogger Abbas Khosravi Faresani remained free on bail at year’s end pending trial. According to the CPJ, officers arrested Faresani in June 2012 and tortured him to force him to confess to “acting against national security,” “publishing lies,” “insulting the supreme leader,” and “membership in organizations related to Israel.”
There were developments in cases from previous years. On March 19, authorities released from prison Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter of former president Rafsanjani and an outspoken political and women’s rights activist, after she completed her six-month sentence for “propaganda against the system.” She remained subject to a five-year ban on political and press activities. On May 15, according to the ICHRI, authorities released from prison Fariborz Rais-Dana after he completed his one-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the system” in connection with a 2010 interview with the BBC Persian service.
Press Freedoms: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications that were deemed critical of officials. The government did not permit foreign media organizations to film or take photographs in the country, required foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, and attempted to influence correspondents through pressure. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the main governmental agency in charge of audiovisual policy, directed all state-owned media. Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of IRIB, and a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and Islamic Consultative Assembly oversees IRIB’s activities. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitution for terms deemed inappropriate.
Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations. It closed or prohibited opposition and reformist newspapers, intimidated and arrested journalists, and censored news. Government-controlled print media was also subject to censorship and temporary closures for allegedly insulting the regime.
On October 28, according to domestic and international media, the country’s press supervisory board banned the reformist daily newspaper Bahar after it published an opinion article questioning whether the Prophet Muhammad had appointed Imam Ali his successor, one of Shia Islam’s principal beliefs. It remained banned at year’s end.
There were developments in previous years’ cases. The reformist newspaper Shargh resumed publication after a jury lifted a ban and acquitted its editor in December 2012. Ali-Akbar Javanfekr, a media adviser to former president Ahmadinejad and Iran newspaper manager, was free from prison at year’s end. In September 2012, Javanfekr began serving a six-month prison sentence he was issued in 2011 for “publishing materials contrary to Islamic norms” in connection with an article he wrote questioning the origins of aspects of the country’s women’s dress code.
Under the constitution private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through the state-controlled IRIB. Radio and television programming, which was the principal source of news for many citizens (especially in rural areas where internet access was limited), reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. There was some evidence that the government had stopped jamming foreign media by year’s end. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous, although police intensified their campaign to confiscate satellite dishes around the country.
Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting (see also section 1.e.). The government also harassed many journalists’ families, and journalists in prison were often subjected to solitary confinement. According to the UN special rapporteur’s October report, at least 40 journalists and 29 bloggers and online activists were serving prison sentences in the country, and 23 journalists had been arrested since the start of the year. International NGOs reported that several journalists were forced into exile during the year and that authorities continued to close publications for political reasons.
On January 28, international media outlets reported that authorities had harassed and detained 11 employees of foreign media organizations for their “foreign contacts.” Domestic press reported the individuals had been picked up on a warrant from the judiciary as a result of their “cooperation with Persian-language antirevolutionary media.” In early March authorities released on bail all of the individuals they had detained except Sasan Aghaei and Nasrin Takhayori.
There were developments in previous years’ cases. On June 21, a court sentenced activist Saeed Madani to six years in prison and 10 years of internal exile in Bandar Abbas for “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the system.” He underwent surgery in July but returned to prison on July 24, where he remained at year’s end. Also in June a court gave Kurdish journalist and political activist Ehsan Houshmand a one-year suspended prison sentence for “propaganda against the system.” On July 3, journalist Fatemeh Kheradmand received a one-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the system” in connection with her work on an internet magazine. There was no further information available at year’s end regarding other journalists and bloggers arrested in early 2012, including Peyman Pakmehr, Parastoo Dokoohaki, Sahamoldin Borghani, Marzieh Rasouli, Shahram Manochehri, Hassan Fathi, Esmail Jafari, and Reza Jelodarzadeh.
In the 2011 case of Majzooban-e Noor website reporter and photojournalist Reza Entessari, on July 15, Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Entessari to eight years and six months in prison for “establishing an illegal group with the intent to undermine national security,” “propaganda against the system,” “insulting the leader,” and “disrupting the public order.” He remained in prison at year’s end.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship, but it prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” During the year the government censored publications – both reformist and conservative – that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, and criticism of government economic policy. Officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against reformist newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board referred such complaints to the Media Court for further action, including closure and fines. Court proceedings were public with a jury composed of appointed clerics, government officials, and editors of government-controlled newspapers.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance’s censorship bars inappropriate content, including that pertaining to alcohol or describing physical contact between an unmarried woman and man.
NGOs reported that censorship increased in advance of the country’s June 14 presidential election. On April 30, the NGO Reporters Without Borders advised that the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security had summoned the editors of the country’s nationwide publications to inform them of election coverage “red lines.”
Libel Laws/National Security: The government commonly used libel laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. If the libel, insult, or criticism involves Islam or national security, the responsible person may be charged with apostasy and crimes against national security, respectively. The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or internet platforms that criticized the government, to arrest, charge, and sentence individuals for crimes against national security.
On March 7, intelligence officials in Mahabad, a predominantly Kurdish city in Kurdistan Province, arrested Kurdish journalist Khosro Kordpour. On March 9, authorities arrested his brother, Massoud Kordpour, when he inquired about the reasons for his brother’s arrest. Authorities reportedly held both men in solitary confinement for four months in Urmia, a city near the Turkish border, before transferring them to a prison in Mahabad. According to its response to the UN special rapporteur, the government accused the brothers of cooperating with terrorist groups. According to an October 24 AI report, evidence against the brothers was based on MOIS reports and chiefly related to their activities as journalists, including giving interviews to the foreign media on the human rights situation in Kurdistan Province.
Branch 1 of the Mahabad Revolutionary Court tried Khosro and Massoud Kordpour on August 5, September 16, and October 28 on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “activities against the system.” On November 10, a judge sentenced Khosro Kordpour to six years in prison and Massoud Kordpour to three and one-half years in prison. Both men remained in prison at year’s end.
There were developments in several cases from previous years. On July 13, a Tehran Revolutionary Court judge sentenced Mostafa Daneshjoo, Farshid Yadollahi, and Amir Eslami each to seven and one-half years in prison for “forming an illegal group with intent to disrupt national security” in connection with their work on the Gonabadi Dervish website Majzooban-e Noor. According to the Austrian NGO Sudwind, on August 24, Daneshjoo suffered from respiratory disease and cardiac arrhythmia, and his health was in “very critical” condition. Amir Eslami underwent stomach surgery in August, but in September authorities transferred him back to Evin Prison before the end of his assigned recovery period, according to HRANA. Daneshjoo, Yadollahi, and Eslami remained in prison at year’s end. On September 23, authorities released women’s rights activist Mahboubeh Karami from prison and suspended her three-year prison sentence for “assembling with intent to harm state security” and “spreading propaganda against the system.” She remained out of prison at year’s end.
The government restricted access to the internet. The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 26 percent of individuals used the internet during the year.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the ministry, which, along with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the MOIS, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office, composed the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites, the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. The same law that applies to traditional press applies to electronic media, and the Press Supervisory Board and judiciary used the law to close websites during the year. NGOs reported that the government continued its restrictions on access to the internet during the year, especially in advance of the June 14 presidential election, as more citizens used it as a source for news and political debate. Internet traffic over mobile communication devices, including cell phones, was reportedly subject to the same restrictions as traffic operating over fixed-line connections.
Organizations, including the Basij “Cyber Council,” the Cyber Police, and the Cyber Army – which was presumed to operate under the IRGC – monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyber threats against national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government, including by raising sensitive social issues. The government’s cyber monitoring organizations upgraded and used sophisticated filtering technology to restrict access rapidly to newly published internet content. NGOs reported that the government attempted to block internet users’ access to technology that would circumvent government content filters. In March 2012 Supreme Leader Khamenei created by decree the Supreme Council for Cyberspace (SCC) to formulate the country’s internet policies and devise plans to regulate its use. The Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content, headed by the prosecutor general and judiciary, reportedly implements the council’s decisions regarding the filtering and blocking of sensitive websites.
At the same time, many individuals used banned social media regularly, particularly urban youth. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted messages using a verified Twitter account. Accounts linked to Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Rouhani were also active but remained officially unverified at year’s end.
According to the UN special rapporteur’s October report, authorities reportedly announced that up to five million websites “are blocked.” Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access, and in January 2012 the government required cybercafes to install security cameras and to collect users’ personal information. According to domestic press reports, police inspected 352 internet cafes during one week in July and closed 67 for offering “illegal services” to youth.
The government periodically reduced internet speed to discourage downloading material. According to the UN special rapporteur, during the year and especially prior to politically sensitive dates, including the June 14 presidential election, authorities slowed internet speed and further limited access to social networking platforms, reformist or oppositionist websites, and popular e-mail servers. In the days after the Guardian Council announced the list of candidates it had selected to run in the election, internet speed reportedly dropped by more than 70 percent in what officials described as an effort to “preserve calm” in the country.
According to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2013 report, the SCC announced a change in the government’s filtering practices from “uniform resource locator (URL) filtering” to “content filtering” before the election. This change effectively imposed content-based restrictions on material not previously banned. Before the election the SCC also announced a new list of cybercrimes that included encouraging people to boycott the election by publishing online content, publishing fake survey results regarding the election, and publishing content that “mocks” the election or its candidates.
The government prosecuted and punished several bloggers and webmasters for the peaceful expression of dissenting views. On April 9, blogger Mojtaba Daneshtalab began serving a six-month prison sentence for “insulting the supreme leader” in relation to a 2011 article in which Daneshtalab criticized Supreme Leader Khamanei’s suggestion to institute a parliamentary system of government. On October 6, authorities released Daneshtalab after he completed his sentence.
There were no developments in the 2011 case of journalist and blogger Siamak Ghaderi, who remained imprisoned at year’s end on a four-year sentence for “propaganda against the system” for participating in and reporting on public gatherings.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education based on political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula. Women were restricted from enrolling in several courses of study and faced limited program opportunities, quotas on program admission, and gender-segregated classes (see section 6, Women).
Authorities relied on university disciplinary committees to suspend, transfer, or expel students based on their social and political activism, involvement in student publications considered antiregime, or participation in student associations affiliated with reformist or oppositionist political movements. Student groups reported that a “star” system inaugurated by President Ahmadinejad in 2005 to rank politically active students was still in use. Students deemed antiregime through this system reportedly were prevented from registering for future terms. Repeated suspensions through this mechanism resulted in effectively denying the targeted students’ the ability to complete or continue their studies. Authorities expelled numerous student activists during the year for participating in political activities, including nonviolent protests. In his February 28 report, the UN special rapporteur cited statistics drawn from cases that appeared in the media that found at least 935 cases of students deprived of continuing their education for one semester or more and 41 professors expelled from universities for their political views since 2005. The rapporteur stated on October 4 that approximately 15 student rights activists were imprisoned and serving prison sentences of at least five years for peaceful advocacy of students’ rights.
Authorities continued to dismiss university professors in accordance with a policy of removing and denying tenure to secular professors and those who deviated from the government-sanctioned perspective on topics such as the situation of women, ethnic and religious minorities, drug abuse, or domestic violence. The consequent intimidation and self-censorship impaired their ability to conduct independent academic research.
The government maintained controls on cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those deemed to transgress Islamic values. Cultural creators self-censored in response.
The government censored films that authorities deemed promoted secularism, women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism, and some domestic directors were restricted and sanctioned. On September 12, the government allowed the re-opening of the House of Cinema, the country’s cinema guild, bringing together those in the industry to promote Iranian film and protect the rights of filmmakers. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance had forced the House of Cinema to close in January 2012. Officials declared the re-opening indicated the new government’s support for the country’s film industry.
Music remained banned in all schools, and the media reported that officials continued to discourage teaching music in general. The Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry must officially approve a song’s lyrics and music as complying with the country’s moral values, although many bands released albums without seeking such permission. Heavy metal and foreign music were considered religiously offensive, and police continued to crack down on underground concerts and music groups. The morality police arrested Amir Hossein Maghsoudloo, a popular underground singer who used the stage name Amir Tataloo, and charged him with security-related crimes, according to the December 4 reformist daily Etemad. Maghsoudloo attracted more than 570,000 fans on one of his Facebook pages.