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Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran


Today IHRDC has released its latest report entitled Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In this report IHRDC describes the legal framework within which the Iranian state limits freedom of expression and imposes censorship. Relying on witness testimony from former government officials, authors and journalists, this report examines different aspects of the Iranian government’s actions against individuals whose opinions, beliefs or actions are contrary to what the state desires or expects. 


Restrictions on freedom of expression in Iran are both broad and arbitrary. In addition, changes in the political climate influence what may be acceptable in the political and cultural arenas. Isa Saharkhiz, a journalist and a former official with Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, likened working as a journalist in Iran to walking on a minefield, knowing that a wrong step may harm your career or possibly land you in prison.


This report discusses events that took place in the early years of the Iranian Revolution as well as those of the recent past. While the characteristics of censorship and governmental controls on speech have undergone some changes over time, the Islamic Republic has shown that it is not willing to significantly soften its position with respect to political opinion and cultural expression, which it appears to consider as challenges to its political or religious authority. Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in the Islamic Republic of Iran explains how the Iranian government violates its own laws as well as international human rights norms as it attempts to maintain control over media outlets, the internet, and individual Iranians. “The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has engineered one of the most repressive environments on the planet in terms of the right to free speech,” said Rod Sanjabi, Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, adding, “For decades, journalists, scholars, artists and indeed all Iranians have been forced to navigate censorship, self-censorship, and the aggressive and often arbitrary policing of the public space by a government whose distaste for free speech has long been a matter of identity. As long as these trends persist, Iran will be poorly governed.”  





1. Background

1.1. Purges after the 1979 Iranian Revolution

1.2. The Law to Reconstruct the Human Resources of Ministries, Governmental Institutes and Government-Related Institutes

2. Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance

2.1. Structure

2.1.1. Departments

2.2. Implementation of Ministry of Culture Policies in Practice

2.2.1. Isa Saharkhiz

2.2.2. Ali Asghar Ramezanpour

3. Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in Practice

3.1. Accounts of Journalists Who Experienced Censorship or Prosecution

3.1.1. Nikahang Kowsar

3.1.2. Abbas Maroufi

3.1.3. Reza Haghighatnejad

3.1.4. Isa Saharkhiz

3.1.5. Ali Asghar Ramezanpour

3.1.6. Bijan Safsari

3.2. Accounts of Authors Experiencing Censorship

3.2.1. Abbas Maroufi

3.2.2. Reza Parchizadeh

3.2.3. Popak Akhtari Rad

3.2.4. Isa Saharkhiz

3.3. Restriction on Academic Freedom

3.3.1. Cultural Revolution

3.3.2. Mahmoud Sabahy

3.3.3. Mohammad Sharif

3.3.4. Morteza Mardiha

3.4. Censorship of the Arts

3.4.1. Atena Farghadani

3.4.2. Fatemeh Ekhtesari

3.4.3. Mehdi Mousavi

3.5. Censorship of the Internet

3.5.1. Examples of Filtered Websites

3.5.2. Cyber Police

4. Restrictions Imposed on Freedom of Expression through Iran’s Domestic Law

4.1. Restrictions Imposed on Freedom Of Expression through Iran’s Criminal Code

4.1.1. Article 262 and 263 of the IPC: Insulting the Prophet Mohamamd

4.1.2. Article 286 of the 2013 IPC: Spreading Lies

4.1.3. Article 500 of the Fifth Book of the IPC: Disseminating Propaganda against the Islamic Republic

4.1.4. Article 513 of the Fifth Book: Insulting Islamic Sacred Beliefs

4.1.5. Article 514 of the Fifth Book: Insulting Ayatollah Khomeini and the Supreme Leader

4.1.6. Article 609 of the Fifth Book: Insulting Government Officials

4.1.7. Article 698 of the Fifth Book: Dissemination of Falsehood for the Purpose of Inflicting Harm or Disturbing Public Opinion or that of the Authorities

4.2. Restrictions Imposed on Freedom of Expression by the Press Law

4.2.1. The Press Oversight Board

4.2.2. The Press Court

5. Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion and Freedom of Expression under International Law

5.1. Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion

5.2. Freedom of Expression






In 2006, when Reza Haghighatnejad was the editor of a local newspaper in Yazd, his paper published a front page story about the high rate of domestic violence against women in the city. The story was based on data compiled by a government study. Within hours the newspaper’s office received calls from government officials who objected to the story’s publication. They stated that the reputations of Yazd, and that of its women, were injured by the report. The fact that the study was commissioned by the government did not matter. By the end of the day, Haghighatnejad’s newspaper decided to publish an apology on the next day, and falsely claim that the story was not accurate. Had this step not been taken, the newspaper’s leadership feared that it would have been closed down.[1]


The latest round of arrests of journalists in Iran occurred in 2015. Solmaz Eikder, a journalist who worked at several newspapers, was arrested on June 11, 2015 as she was about to leave the country.[2]  She was subsequently sentenced to three years of imprisonment on charges of insulting the Supreme Leader and insulting sacred religious values.[3] On October 7, 2015, Hasan Sheikhaghai, the managing editor of Ruwange News, a website focusing on Kurdistan Province, was arrested.[4] On November 2, 2015 Isa Saharkhiz,  and Ehsan Mazandarani, the managing editor of the daily Farhikhtegan, were arrested by the IRGC intelligence division. On November 3, 2015, Afarin Chitsaz, a journalist working at Iran newspaper, and Saman Safarzaei, a journalist with the Andisheye Pouya monthly, were also arrested.[5] These arrests followed a speech by Iran’s Supreme Leader on September 16, 2015, in which he warned of Western infiltration in the Iranian society. In that speech Ayatollah Khamenei stated, “Economic and security infiltration are, of course, dangerous. But the enemy’s political and cultural infiltration is much more dangerous and everyone should watch for it.”[6]


The arbitrary and extra-legal nature of restrictions on freedom of expression, as evident from the above example, makes it very difficult to predict the limits of acceptable speech in Iran. This uncertainty is even reflected in the Iranian Constitution, which states, “Publications and the press have freedom of expression except when it is where there is infringement of the basic tenets of Islam or public rights.”[7] What is considered permissible under Islam, however, is a subject of great debate.


While censorship is a broad concept, in this report censorship is discussed in the context of actions taken by various branches of the Iranian government to punish individuals for their speech or to impose strict limitations on what may be discussed in print or online media.


This report first provides a background on the early years of the Iranian Revolution and the attempts of the newly formed government to impose its ideology on universities and other state institutions. It then discusses the role that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (MOCAIG) plays in shaping the government’s policy regarding various forms of expression. The report then uses the accounts of journalists, authors and others to demonstrate how the Iranian government restricts the freedom of expression and punishes those who cross its ever-changing lines. Finally, the report will explain the Islamic Republic’s criminal and civil legal provisions pertaining to control of speech, and it will provide an analysis of the actions of the Iranian government through international human rights law.

1.      Background


When the revolutionary government came to power in February 1979 it immediately began its campaign against officials of the former regime and others deemed to be counter-revolutionaries. Many were executed.[8] Purging state agencies of individuals who were considered to be counter-revolutionaries or unsympathetic to the new government followed suit.


1.1.           Purges after the 1979 Iranian Revolution


In August 1979, the Revolutionary Council, which acted as the country’s temporary legislature, passed a law to provide a framework for purging of individuals who were considered unfit from governmental agencies.[9]


In January 1980 the Revolutionary Council passed another law to create an appeal process for purge decisions. This law established boards comprised of three to five individuals in order to hear such appeals.[10] If the appeal had merit, then the purge decision would be reversed regarding that person.


While supporting the purges in principle, Ezatollah Sahabi, a member of the parliament and prominent member of the Iran Freedom Movement, criticized their implementation on the floor of the parliament on August 26, 1980:


During the months in which purges have been going on, because there were no clear regulations for the purges, different purge committees have had various processes, methods, and possibly very different and divergent regulations and opinions, so much so that now we see that in our administrative organs some brains, experts and individuals who can serve the revolution in the future are being purged instead of main counter-revolutionary elements.[11]


Mohammad Javad Bahonar, who served as the Minister of Education at the time, stated that “irresponsible” committees had conducted purges in provinces.[12] Bahonar added that some of the purge committees were, in fact, illegal. He further conceded that the purge law was overbroad. For instance, he noted that participating in official events marking the Shah’s birthday was used as a cause for termination by purge committees.[13]


The October 1980 closure of the Ministry of National Guidance, the predecessor to the MOCAIG, clearly demonstrated the swift and arbitrary nature of the revolutionary government’s actions against those who it deemed in opposition to its ideology. On October 1, Abbas Douzdouzani, the Minister of National Guidance, announced that his ministry was shutting down in order for it to be purged.[14]



Figure1: Abbas Douzdouzani announces the temporary closure of Ministry of National Guidance to its employees on October 1, 1980.


 “Our most important duty in this ministry is reviving Islam,” Douzdouzani declared. Referring to the employees of his ministry, Douzdouzani added:


Unfortunately most of you are former employees of the ministry of censorship under the Shah and the former Ministry of National Guidance, but we want to have a Ministry of Islamic Guidance with employees who are truly ideological and believe in the Islamic Revolution.[15]


Following the speech, which took place at a hotel in Tehran, Ministry of National Guidance employees returned to the ministry building only to find that the ministry’s doors were closed.[16] These employees staged a protest in front of the ministry’s building. According to Kayhan, the Revolutionary Guards fired warning shots but the protesters did not leave.[17]


Douzdouzani indicated that the backgrounds of the ministry’s employees would be thoroughly examined, and those deemed qualified would return to their jobs. However, he added, those returning to their jobs would have to participate in special classes so that they would be “ideologically strengthened.”[18] Few months later the ministry reopened under the name of the Ministry of Islamic Guidance.[19]


Mohammad Khatami, who was Minister of Islamic Guidance during most of the 1980s before being elected president in 1997, discussed the purges at the Ministry of Islamic Guidance in remarks at the Iranian parliament on April 22, 1984. According to Khatami, 730 individuals were fired from the ministry in the first wave of purges, and another 613 persons were terminated in purges that occurred later.[20] On the other hand, Khatami stated that 922 and 473 individuals were hired in Tehran and the provinces, respectively. Khatami described the new hires as “devoted clerics and non-clerics.”[21] He stated that in his opinion good management meant that all those who were willing to work with the Islamic Republic should be allowed to work within the system. Nevertheless, Khatami added, “Key position, however, should be held by individuals who are one hundred percent trustworthy and pious.”[22]


1.2.           The Law to Reconstruct the Human Resources of Ministries, Governmental Institutes and Government-Related Institutes


Following two laws promulgated by the Revolutionary Council regarding purges, a broader and significantly more detailed law was passed by the newly formed Iranian parliament in 1981. The law, which was entitled “The Law to Reconstruct the Human Resources of Ministries, Governmental Institutes and Government-Related Institutes,” significantly broadened the scope of purges and the reasons for which an individual could be denied employment in the public sector. Containing 63 articles, this law provided a framework for appealing adverse decisions.


The 1981 law established four categories of offenses that could be the basis for denying employment.[23] These were (1) political and military offenses, (2) financial and administrative offenses, (3) disciplinary infractions, and (4) actions violating public morality.


While the activities that could lead to a firing were expanded in this law, the arbitrary nature of the law remained in place. Actions against public morality, which constituted the fourth category of offenses, were particularly ill-defined. “Actions violating public decency”, “public acts of debauchery,” and “acts and behaviors violating the honor and the station of the workplace” were listed as actions violating public morality.[24]


In addition to the activities mentioned above, this law specifically targeted individuals whose religious beliefs were not acceptable to the revolutionary government. Article 19.1 of this law stated that members of “misguided sects” that were considered to have left Islam, and members of organizations that their founding charters were based on “denying divine religions” would be subject to the restructuring law.[25] The term “misguided sect” typically refers to the Bahá'í Faith.[26] According to a 2008 report by the International Bahá'í Community, about 15,000 Bahá'ís lost their jobs or sources of livelihood in the years following the Iranian Revolution.[27] This report indicates that by July 1982 all Bahá'í public servants were fired and the pensions of those who had retired were eliminated.[28]


2.      Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance


The MOCAIG is one of the most important government organs in terms of controlling and shaping political and cultural speech. This section explains the structure of this ministry, and through the accounts of two former Ministry officials, examines the actions of this Ministry during the reform era, which was one of its most consequential periods.


2.1.           Structure


2.1.1.      Departments


The MOCAIG has six departments. Each department, or moavenat, is responsible for a different aspect of the Ministry’s responsibilities. The wide array of responsibilities listed for each department demonstrates the extent to which the Iranian government controls, or at least attempts to control, various forms of expression.


The Cultural Affairs Department is responsible for promoting book readership and regulating publication of books. The Arts Department is in charge of overseeing exhibitions, theatrical performances, and visual arts. The Expansion of Management and Resources Department mostly deals with human resources and logistical management. The Press Affairs and Information Department is responsible for policies governing the press. This department drafts regulations governing the establishment of non-governmental news agencies and online news sites.[29] This department also oversees the export and import of newspapers, magazines, and other news-related products. The Quran and the Prophet’s Family Department, as its name implies, focuses on fostering Islamic, and particularly Shia’, religious values. The Legal, Parliamentary, and Provinces Affairs Department acts as a liaison between the Ministry and the parliament. Some of the responsibilities of this department include observing regulations promulgated for registering cultural landmarks, planning discussion sessions with members of the parliament regarding cultural issues, and advising the Minister on appointments of provincial Ministry officials.



2.2.           Implementation of Ministry of Culture Policies in Practice


In interviews with IHRDC two former senior officials with the MOCAIG described how this ministry operated, and provided accounts of how they handled competing interests within the spheres of their respective duties.


2.2.1.      Isa Saharkhiz


Isa Saharkhiz is the former head of the Office of Internal Press and News Agencies, which is one of the offices in the Press Affairs and Information Department. Saharkhiz, born in January 1954, was invited to take charge of the Office of Internal Press and News Agencies after President Khatami’s election in 1997.            Paper Subsidies


The print media in Iran receive critical subsidies from the government for purchasing their paper. Saharkhiz stated that his predecessor, Ali Jannati, who years later became Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, had implemented a policy through which some publications received special treatment.[30] One publication, for instance, had received five years worth of paper during a six-month period.[31] Some publications sold their surplus of subsidized paper in the free market for a profit.[32] When the reformists came into power, the approach of the Ministry towards subsidies changed. Leading the change was the late Ahmad Bourghani, the Minister’s deputy and the head of the Press Affairs and Information Department. According to Saharkhiz, under Bourghani the policy of the Ministry was to provide subsidies to print media without judging the content of the publication.[33]


Saharkhiz stated that when he came into office he developed a new formula that determined the subsidy each publication received by factoring in their use of paper, their actual circulation, and the pages that do not generate income through advertisement.[34] This new approach adversely impacted newspapers that used to sell their extra paper in the free market or inflate their circulation numbers in order to receive more money. Saharkhiz stated that when he was in office the total circulation of newspapers and magazines in Iran increased threefold from an average of 1.2 million copies per day to 3.4 million copies.[35]            Permit Issuance


The number of permits issued after the 1997 presidential election soared. According to Saharkhiz, before 1997 the Press Oversight Board only issued permits to 40 or 50 publications per year. In contrast, after the reformists’ victory the Press Oversight Board issued more than 300 permits just during one of its meetings.[36] One factor in this increase was a new approach to issuing permits for magazines in specialized fields such as medicine or metals.[37] Another factor was adopting the policy that was based on the premise that each journalist is entitled to have his or her publication in the same way that a pharmacist or radiologist was entitled to have his or her own business.[38]


Saharkhiz stated that following the reformists’ victory in the 1997 presidential election the balance of power in the Press Oversight Board was in favor of the reformists. In response, conservatives, who controlled the parliament, amended the Press Law to tip the balance of power in favor of conservatives.[39] They achieved this goal through adding two seats to the Press Oversight Board. The added seats were to be filled by a representative from the Qom religious seminary and a representative from the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution. Following this change the 3-2 balance in favor of reformists changed to 4-3 in favor of conservatives.[40]            Arranging Visits to Neighboring Countries for Members of the Press Oversight Board


After Saharkhiz had left the MOCAIG, he was selected as the press’s representative in the Press Oversight Board. While serving in that capacity, Saharkhiz suggested that the members of the Press Oversight Board visit other countries so that they could become familiar with how the press is handled outside Iran. He believed that taking this action will show conservative members of the Press Oversight Board that restrictions on the press in Iran, even compared to its neighbors, were excessive.[41]


A trip was arranged for members of the board. They visited Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.[42] Gholamhossein Mohseni-Eje’i, the judiciary’s representative in the Press Oversight Board, was among those who went on this trip.[43] According to Saharkhiz:


They went and saw that in Kuwait, for instance, there was no such a thing as closing down [a paper]…They realized that even in Arab countries publications had a good quality as well as a high quantity, and that their press was more free compared to ours. [44]


According to Saharkhiz, Mohseni-Eje’i asked the most questions from foreign officials during those trips. He wanted to know how their judiciaries handled press cases.[45]            Resignation from the Ministry


Saharkhiz resigned from the MOCAIG after Saeed Mortazavi, the press court judge, took legal action against him. At issue was the daily Zan (Woman), which was first published on August 8, 1998 and permanently closed on April 6, 1999.[46] While the case against Zan was pending in the press court and the ultimate fate of the publication was not clear, the MOCAIG allowed Zan to have a booth at the Press Expo, an annual fair in Tehran.[47] Saharkhiz reasoned that since the press court had not issued a final decision regarding Zan, the newspaper should have been allowed to participate in the Press Expo.[48] Mortazavi brought charges against Saharkhiz for issuing a permit to Zan to participate in the fair.


During the interrogations, which were conducted by Saeed Mortazavi, Saharkhiz was faced with three charges, two of which were related to Zan.[49] These two charges were obstructing a judicial order and aiding and abetting Zan. The charge of obstructing a judicial order was dropped because Saharkhiz argued that he had, in fact, delivered the judicial order of Zan’s closure to the newspaper.[50] The last charge, aiding and abetting Zan, was punishable by termination of governmental employment and a fine. This charge was rendered moot because Saharkhiz resigned from his official post.[51]            The Physical Altercation with Mohseni-Eje’i


While representing the press at the Press Oversight Board, Saharkhiz was physically assaulted by Gholamhossein Mohseni-Eje’i, the judiciary’s representative at the board. In two separate incidents, Mohseni Eje’i threw sugar cube containers at Saharkhiz.[52] The first incident was not publicized. The second incident, which took place in May 2004, was publicized and demonstrated the tension between the conservative and reformist camps.


During a session of the Press Oversight Board in May 2004, Saharkhiz and Mohseni-Eje’i got into an argument over two pieces published in two different publications. One was an economic article, and the other one was an article about relationships between boys and girls.[53] The argument got heated, and Mohseni-Eje’i reportedly insulted Saharkhiz’s family.[54] He subsequently threw a sugar cube container at Saharkhiz. As Saharkhiz tried to flee, Mohseni-Eje’i threw another sugar cube container, which hit Saharkhiz in the back.[55] Saharkhiz then left the room, but decided to get back because his absence would tip the balance in favor of the conservatives and would result in adverse decisions regarding permits for publications.[56] When he returned, however, Mohseni-Eje’i attacked him again, and this time he bit him on the shoulder.[57]


Figure 2: Isa Saharkhiz, a member of the Press Oversight Board, was bit on the shoulder by Gholamhossein Mohseni Eje’i, a judge representing the judiciary in the Press Oversight Board.


Saharkhiz went to the medical examiner’s office and lodged a complaint against Mohseni-Eje’i. The medical examiner’s office set a compensatory payment equal to one tenth of the price of a camel for the injury Saharkhiz had sustained as a result of being hit in the back by a sugar cube container.[58] The judiciary has never held a trial to hear Saharkhiz’s complaint against Mohseni- Eje’i.



Figure 3: Gholamhossein Mohseni-Eje’i, the deputy to the head and spokesperson of the Iranian judiciary, assaulted and bit Isa Saharkhiz during a session of the Press Oversight Board in May 2004. At that time Mohseni-Eje’i was the head of the Special Clerical Court and served the judiciary’s representative in the Press Oversight Board.


According to Saharkhiz, Mohseni-Eje’i had planned to halt the permitting process by disrupting the meeting of the Press Oversight Board.[59] Mohseni-Eje’i, who at the time was the head of the Special Clerical Court, went on to become the Minister of Intelligence under President Ahmadinejad. He later became the deputy to the head and the spokesperson of the Iranian judiciary.


2.2.2.      Ali Asghar Ramezanpour


Ali Asghar Ramezanpour was born in 1961 in Bandar Abbas. He fought in the Iran-Iraq War and worked at the War Propaganda Office. After the war ended in 1988 he and a number of his colleagues at the War Propaganda Office joined the MOCAIG.[60] Ramezanpour was appointed as the secretary of the Press Oversight Board.[61]            Changing the Permitting Process


Ramezanpour stated that during the first decade after the Revolution, with the exception of daily newspapers, other publications had to have every single issue reviewed and approved by the MOCAIG.[62] The process, in effect, was similar to what takes place before a book can get published. To change this policy, the MOCAIG invoked a relatively lax law passed by the Revolutionary Council in 1979.[63] Ramezanpour stated that at that time invoking the old law passed by the Revolutionary Council was a better approach than trying to pass a new law at the parliament, and that a new law would have been far more restrictive.[64]According to Ramezanpour the number of publications doubled in the 1990-91 period under the MOCAIG’s policy.[65]            Circumventing Ministry of Intelligence Background Checks


To ensure the highest number of approved applications, MOCAIG often took measures to circumvent Ministry of Intelligence (MOI) background checks. For instance, Ramezanpour stated that when individuals like Masoud Behnoud[66] and Sirous Alinejad[67] were named by a magazine as potential permit-holders, the MOCAIG would contact MOI officials and ask them what would be the result of a hypothetical background check for that person.[68] When MOI officials told MOCAIG officials that the background check result would not be favorable, MOCAIG would tell the applicants to name a different person as the permit-holder.[69] As a result, in several instances a person would become the permit-holder but a different person would actually run the publication.

3.      Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in Practice


Iranian law imposes serious yet arbitrary and ill-defined restrictions on the press and what they can publish. As a result, the press is constantly under the threat of closure and judicial action. One of the recent instances of restrictions on the press involved the discussion of the nuclear deal between Iran and the 5+1 group. In July 2015 Iranian media reports emerged that a secret directive by the MOCAIG had instructed Iranian media to refrain from criticizing the nuclear deal.[70] The directive further urged the media to praise the Iranian negotiating team. According to this directive, the instructions regarding the manner in which the nuclear deal was to be covered were issued by the Supreme National Security Council.[71] Based on accounts of witnesses interviewed by IHRDC and news reports, this section provides a detailed discussion of various examples of restrictions on freedom of speech and expression.

3.1.           Accounts of Journalists Who Experienced Censorship or Prosecution


IHRDC has interviewed a number of journalists who experienced censorship or prosecution for their work. The following accounts demonstrate the pattern in which their freedom of expression has been abused.

3.1.1.      Nikahang Kowsar


Nikahang Kowsar, a cartoonist born in 1969 in Tehran, began his career at a university paper at the University of Tehran. In 1991 he joined Gol-Agha, a popular satirical weekly, as a cartoonist and a writer.[72] Kowsar worked at Gol-Agha until 1996.  Later on he worked at newspapers such as Hamshahri, Zan, and Azad.            Gol-Agha


Gol-Agha was run by Kioumars Saberi Fumani, who had previously served as Ali Khamenei’s advisor during Khamenei’s presidency, before he became the Supreme Leader. According to Kowsar, due to Saberi Fumani’s personal relationship with the Supreme Leader, Gol-Agha enjoyed a degree of protection from state interference.[73] Fumani instructed his cartoonists not to draw the clergy or security forces.[74] Even the instances in which the regular police were drawn were very few.[75] Fumani also told his staff not to approach subjects that could be used by the Islamic Republic’s enemies. Human rights, for example, was generally not an issue that Gol-Agha tackled. Gol-Agha’s satire mostly involved economic issues, the performance of the executive branch, and general policies.[76] Occasionally, however, the executive branch took issue with some of the material published in Gol-Agha. Gol-Agha never published a cartoon of President Hashemi Rafsanjani because he was a cleric. Instead, Gol-Agha would draw the cartoon of Vice President Hasan Habibi, and it was generally understood that the real intent of the cartoons depicting Vice President Habibi was to poke fun at President Hashemi Rafsanjani.[77] President Hashemi Rafsanjani, had, in a number of occasions, complained to Ayatollah Khamenei about Gol-Agha.[78]


Kowsar maintained that during his tenure at Gol-Agha, depending on the political climate, the magazine would instruct the staff to lower their level of criticism. In a few occasions, Saberi Fumani had to write editorials in which he would reiterate his loyalty to the Supreme Leader.[79] Saberi Fumani also intervened on behalf of a number of cartoonists in other publications to help them avoid prosecution and imprisonment.[80]            Imprisonment and Prosecution


A cartoon by Kowsar at Azad subjected him to arrest and prosecution. Kowsar drew the cartoon in response to comments by an influential conservative cleric, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who had claimed that reformist journalists had been paid by the CIA to attack Islam.[81] The cartoon, published on January 30, 2000, depicted a crocodile shedding tears while suffocating a journalist with his tail. The Persian term for crocodile –temsah—was very similar to Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi’s name, and this similarity was not lost to the authorities.


When Kowsar returned to work the next day he was faced with phone threats. On the next day a protest was held at Qom, demanding Kowsar’s punishment.[82] In addition, seminary students at Qom cancelled their classes and staged a sit-in at the seminary. They were joined by clerics teaching at the Qom seminary and some members of the Assembly of Experts.[83] On Friday Prayer sermons across the country, prayer leaders stated that this cartoon had insulted Islam.[84] On the following Saturday, February 5, 2000, Judge Mortazavi called Kowsar at the office of Aftab-e Emrouz newspaper, where he worked in the mornings.[85] Mortazavi asked him to go to court so they could talk and resolve the misunderstanding.[86]


Kowsar called Kambiz Norouzi, the legal consultant of the Association of Iranian Journalists. Norouzi told Kowsar that the authorities were about to arrest him. Kowsar subsequently asked Azad’s managing editor to have the newspaper’s attorney represent him at court. However, Kowsar stated that despite the managing editor’s promise in the affirmative, the newspaper had conspired with Mortazavi so that Kowsar would be imprisoned instead of the managing editor.[87] Under the Press Law in effect at that time in most circumstances only the managing editor could be held responsible for the content of his or her publication.[88]  When Kowsar reached the court, he realized that the newspaper’s attorney was not there to represent him.[89]



Figure 4: Nikahang Kowsar was imprisoned and prosecuted for drawing this cartoon.


Mortazavi interrogated Kowsar for three and a half hours at Branch 1410 of the Government Employees’ Court.[90] Kowsar referred to this interrogation as one of the most difficult experiences of his life.[91] Mortazavi threatened Kowsar by insinuating that something terrible could happen to his family.[92]

Kowsar faced several charges, including offending sacred Islamic beliefs, disseminating falsehood, and acting against national security.[93] The latter charge was predicated on causing demonstrations in Qom in days leading to the parliamentary elections.[94] A few days later the charge of swearing at the Prophet was also added to Kowsar’s charges. This charge stemmed from another one of Kowsar’s cartoons in which a father was relating the story of Joseph to his son. In that cartoon the father told his son that Joseph, too, had “rogue brothers.”[95] The term “rogue brothers” was a reference to MOI agents who had assassinated a number of Iranian intellectuals in 1990s. Mortazavi, Kowsar states, sent this cartoon to Qom to obtain the opinion of Islamic jurists in Qom.[96] Overall, Mortazavi collected 168 cartoons by Kowsar and added them to his case file.[97]


After six days Kowsar was taken to court, where he was released on bail. An attorney retained by the Association of Iranian Journalists was there to represent him.[98]

After his release Kowsar was summoned numerous times for further questioning at Branch 1410 of the Government Employees’ Court. Mortazavi instructed Kowsar to provide written explanations for each of the 168 cartoons he had collected for his case file.[99] Sometimes these sessions took three to four hours.[100]


More than a year after his arrest, Kowsar sent a fax to Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi’s office, and expressed his regrets if his cartoon had upset him and his students. He received a response after 15 minutes, in which Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi’s chief of staff wrote that Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi would pray for Kowsar, and that he would advise him to be mindful of God in his work.[101] Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi’s office forwarded a copy of this response to Judge Mortazavi. This effectively meant that he did not have a complaint against Kowsar. Mortazavi, however, called Kowsar and told him that he was mistaken if he thought that he could resolve the case against him by writing a letter, and that the judiciary was not finished with him.[102]


In April 2003 Kowsar found a letter under his chair when attending a meeting at the Association of Iranian Journalists.[103] The letter, which was signed by “children of Navvab Safavi[104],” stated that according to the fatwas of three jurists Kowsar was condemned to death.[105] Similar letters were sent to others, including satirist Ebrahim Nabavi.[106] During this period Kowsar received a call from Hasan Shayanfar, Kayhan’s deputy manager. Shayanfar told Kowsar that if he joined Kayhan he would no longer face the problems that he was facing.[107] Following this phone call Kowsar felt that he had two options: cooperating with Kayhan or going to prison and being worried about the death threats he had received.[108]


Kowsar contacted Cartoonists’ Rights Network International, and asked them to send him an invitation to go abroad.[109] Kowsar subsequently left Iran for Canada. Several years later Kowsar was finally tried in absentia, and he was sentenced to four months of imprisonment.


Kowsar has won several awards including the 2001 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award and three Crystal Pen awards at Iran’s Press Expo.


3.1.2.      Abbas Maroufi


Abbas Maroufi is a renowned Iranian author. He left Iran in March 1996 after enduring harassment by the Iranian authorities.            Gardoun


 In 1990 he started publishing Gardoun, a literary magazine. Maroufi stated that he had to wait for five years before he could obtain a permit for Gardoun during the 1980s.[110] Gardoun had a circulation of 22,000.[111] Soon after Gardoun was published the authorities started pressuring him.[112] After a sermon at Friday Prayers by Ayatollah Yazdi, the head of the judiciary, a mob attacked Gardoun’s office, damaging the computers.[113] Maroufi filed a complaint with the police.[114]


However, it was Maroufi who was summoned to the Revolutionary Court after a few days.[115] Maroufi was questioned at the Revolutionary Court for three months without being arrested. He stated that he would go to the Revolutionary Court at six in the morning and was questioned until sunset.[116] Once Maroufi asked to be formally arrested, but he was told that they would not do that because he would become famous and his name would be mentioned in foreign radio stations.[117]


Maroufi was questioned about who provided financial support to him, who he was in contact with in the U.S., what were his relations to Israel, how many women he was sleeping with, whether he drank alcohol, which counter-revolutionary group he was cooperating with, and what foreign was country was funding Gardoun.[118]


Maroufi stated his trial took place without his presence, and he was sentenced to death on seven charges including insulting Islam, the clergy, the Islamic Republic, and Ayatollah Khomeini.[119] His attorneys, Shirin Ebadi and Hamid Mosadegh, suggested that he should meet with Ebrahim Raeesi, the Attorney General and deputy to the head of the judiciary.[120] Raeesi used to open his office to the public on Tuesdays, and Maroufi was finally able to speak with him the third time he went to his office.[121]

Raeesi stated that on the night before he had read half of one Maroufi’s best-known books, the Symphony for the Dead, while visiting the home of Ayatollah Meibodi.[122] Raeesi then added that he had enjoyed the book very much, and that he wanted to know where he could find the book.[123] Maroufi had one copy with him:


I put it on his table. He put his hand in his pocket and asked, “How much does it cost?” I said that he could have it for free. He said, “No! This is the desk of justice. Please tell me how much it costs.” I think it was 300 toumans. I took his money and gave him the book. He then asked, “What else have you done in this country?” I said, “Nothing, just the things I told you before.”[124]


Raeesi then went to the next room and looked into the files on Maroufi’s background. He then asked Maroufi to provide him a copy of all the issues that had so far been published. Maroufi complied and asked one his employees to bring them over.[125] Within a week Maroufi stated he received a letter from the judiciary indicating that his sentence was vacated due to lack of jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Court.[126] His case was subsequently referred to the Press Court, where he was acquitted. Gardoun resumed publication after 18 months.[127] A  few years later, Mohammad Khatami, who had been the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, told Maroufi that he had been distressed by the death sentence against Maroufi, and that on his last day as minister, he had he formed the Press Court Jury to prevent Maroufi’s execution.[128]


Gardoun was eventually closed down by the government in 1996. The Press Court Jury, which included several conservative members, found Maroufi guilty and sentenced him to flogging and a two year ban from writing.[129] Maroufi appealed this decision, but he left Iran before his appeal could be addressed.


3.1.3.      Reza Haghighatnejad


Reza Haghighatnejad was born in Eghlid, Fars Province, in 1977. He has worked in a number of reformist as well as conservative media outlets. Haghighatnejad worked as a journalist in Yazd, a city in central Iran. According to him, censorship in newspapers operating in provincial towns and cities was more prevalent compared to newspapers in Tehran.[130]            Violence Against Women Study


Sensitivity of local officials was evident in how they reacted to the publication of a report in Khatam-e Yazd newspaper in 2006. This report had discussed the results of a study commissioned by the Iranian government regarding violence against women.[131] The report indicated that Yazd had a high rate of violence against women.[132] The authorities had several reasons for opposing the publication of this story in Khatam-e Yazd.[133] One was that this report was “on the same page” with foreign media. The second was that this report was undermining the reputation of Yazd. Third, the report had “insulted” the women of Yazd.[134] Haghighatnejad stated that the newspaper come under tremendous pressure from local officials to retract the story.[135] Two days after its publication, the newspaper published an apology, stating that the story had not been accurate.[136] The managing editor reasoned that if the newspaper did not issue this apology, it likely would have been closed down by the authorities.[137] The Yazd Prosecutor and the advisor to the provincial governor were among government officials who pressured the newspaper to retract the story.[138]            Prosecution for Personal Blog


Reza Haghighatnejad had started blogging since 2005.[139] In 2007 the head of the MOI provincial office in Yazd filed a complaint against Haghighatnejad based on 19 items on his blog.[140] Haghighatnejad was charged with insulting President Ahmadinejad, acting against national security, atheism and insulting Islamic beliefs.[141]


In one blog post Haghighatnejad had discussed a state-funded calendar published in Qom that contained religious quotes demeaning to women.[142] The charge of insulting Islamic beliefs stemmed of his negative characterization of quotes about women attributed to Islamic figures.[143] Haghighatnejad was released on bail, but he was subsequently sentenced to 91 days of imprisonment.[144] On appeal, his sentence was reduced to 89 days of imprisonment and a fine.[145] The change from 91 to 89 days was critical because it enabled Haghighatnejad to pay a fine in lieu of imprisonment under a provision that makes it possible to pay a fine for sentences less than 90 days. Haghighatnejad added that he received this relatively lenient sentence because he had a connection in the judiciary.[146]


3.1.4.      Isa Saharkhiz


Isa Saharkhiz is a former MOCAIG official, and his work at the MOCAIG is discussed in Section 2.2.1., supra. Saharkhiz also had a career as a journalist after he left his job.            Akhbar-e Eghtesad


Saharkhiz started publishing Akhbar-e Eghtesad after he resigned from the MOCAIG. The newspaper was closed down during the mass closure of newspapers in the spring of 2000. The pretext for the closure of this newspaper was an open letter written by the wife of Mohammad Saeedi, the imprisoned CEO of a company named Iran Marine Services.[147] In this letter, which was addressed to the head of the Iranian judiciary, Ms. Saeedi had written about her husband’s case and the conditions of his imprisonment.[148]            Aftab


Aftab was a monthly magazine also published by Saharkhiz. Aftab ran articles by Iranian intellectuals, and its purpose was to offer a critique of the reform movement from within.[149] Even the concept of the Guardianship of the Jurist was discussed in the magazine.[150] First the magazine was temporarily closed for an interview with a French professor who had referred to Ayatollah Khomeini as a person who had used guile.[151]Although it resumed publishing, Aftab was eventually closed permanently after three years of publication.[152] Saharkhiz was initially sentenced to five years of imprisonment for charges related to Aftab magazine, but this verdict was later changed to four years of imprisonment and a five year prohibition from working in the press.[153] Saharkhiz appealed, but the judiciary failed to rehear the case. This meant that Saharkhiz’s case was not resolved. However, when Saharkhiz was imprisoned in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election, the charges relating to Aftab resurfaced.[154] Saharkhiz was eventually sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment for his work at Aftab, which he served after serving three years for charges related to 2009 presidential election.[155] He was released from prison on October 3, 2013.[156]

3.1.5.      Ali Asghar Ramezanpour


Ali Asghar Ramezanpour is a former official with the MOCAIG, and his experience in that ministry is discussed in section 2.2.2. supra. Ramezanpour was also a journalist, and he was involved in a number of publications.            Havades


After his first stint at the MOCAIG Ramezanpour published the weekly Havades. Havades, which literally meant “incidents,” covered stories related to crime and fatal accidents. According to Ramezanpour, Havades had a circulation of 300,000 and it had become popular.[157] Iran’s police force soon approached Havades and made certain demands. They wanted to review its content before it was published.[158] In addition, they wanted Havades to publish articles that preached morality and were provided by the police force itself.[159] In practice, they wanted to take advantage of the popularity of Havades and advance their agenda.[160]


When Havades resisted the police force’s demands, the police force went to members of the parliament. Hasan Kamran, a hardliner member of the parliament, was also a member of the Press Oversight Board. Due to his influence, Havades was finally closed down.[161]            Hamshahri


When Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi wanted to publish the daily Hamshahri, Ramezanpour was one of the individuals he called on to start the project. Hamshahri began publication on December 15, 1992.[162] After 50 issues, however, Ramezanpour left the newspaper.[163] The reason for his departure was pressure from the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.[164] According to Ramezanpour, the Supreme Leader’s office had contacted Mayor Karbaschi and specifically told him that Ramezanpour, Ahmad Sattari, and Behrouz Geranpayeh, all member of the editorial board, should leave the paper.[165] Ramezanpour and the two other members of the editorial board decided to leave the paper rather than jeopardize the paper and the jobs of its staff.[166]

3.1.6.      Bijan Safsari


Bijan Safsari is a journalist born in 1957. He worked in Ettelaat newspaper before the Iranian Revolution. After President Khatami’s election in 1997, Safsari worked in other newspapers such as Entekhab, Hayat-e No, Sobh-e Emrouz, Aftab-e Emrouz, and Azad.[167] Safsari recounted that on the day Saeed Hajjarian, the deputy-chair of the Tehran City Council, was shot in an assassination attempt, MOI agents came to the Sobh-e Emrouz office and prevented the distribution of the newspaper’s special edition about the assassination attempt.[168]            Sepideye Zendegi


In 2000 Safsari was summoned to the Press Court after he published an issue of weekly Sepideye Zendegi, in which the magazine took a position in support of Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani. This issue was published when Mohajerani was under increasing pressure by conservatives to resign.[169] Two days after its publication, the managing editor of the magazine, a woman from whom Safsari had rented the magazine, was summoned to the Press Court. The Press Court was held at Branch 401 of the Government Employees’ Court.[170] Safsari accompanied her to the court. Gholamhossein Mohseni-Eje’i, the Press Court prosecutor, criticized Safsari for dedicating one issue of his magazine to the controversy surrounding Mohajerani.[171] The magazine was temporarily closed down on the charge of disturbing public opinion.[172] Although the managing editor and Safsari scheduled a court date at the Press Court, which was to be presided by Judge Mortazavi, the managing editor decided not to pursue the case.[173] As a result Sepideye Zendegi’s permit was revoked.            Nedaye Eslahat


The managing director of Nedaye Eslahat magazine was a reformist member of the parliament. Safsari was the editor-in-chief of this magazine. Nedaye Eslahat was closed down after one issue.[174] The magazine published details of confidential deliberations inside the parliament, which were provided by the managing director.[175] After a complaint by the parliament, which at that time was controlled by the conservatives, the magazine was closed down.[176]            Sedaye Edalat


Safsari then rented another weekly magazine, Sedaye Edalat, from a senior cleric named Hashem Hashemzadeh Herisi, who was a member of the Assembly of Experts.[177] After the first issue, Safsari received a phone call. The person who called Safsari used profane language and told Safsari to remind Hashemzadeh Herisi, who held the magazine’s license, that he was residing in a house owned by the Supreme Leader, and that he should not have given his magazine to reformist journalists.[178] Safsari believes that the person who called him was an IRGC member.[179]Sedaye Edalat continued on, and after a few months it became a daily newspaper.[180] After about forty issues, the newspaper started receiving warning letters from the MOCAIG.[181] In addition, Safsari recounted that the MOCAIG explicitly told newspapers the topics from which they should stay away.[182]


After Safsari and other journalists working at Sedaye Edalat published a report detailing their meeting with Ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri, who was under house arrest at the time, Hashemzadeh Herisi was summoned to the Special Clerical Court.[183] When he returned from the court, he stated that he was told that he should give the control of his newspaper to conservatives.[184] Following this Safsari was no longer able to work at newspapers.[185]            Arrest and Imprisonment


After Sedaye Edalat, Safsari started the Iran-e Ma website. This website published material from opposition figures who were censored in Iranian media.[186] In 2005 Safsari covered a bombing in Ahvaz that was not widely covered in media operating inside Iran.[187] Subsequently, Safsari was arrested by MOI agents and taken to ward 209 of Evin Prison.[188] Safsari was held in solitary confinement for 43 days.[189] He was interrogated and physically abused during this detention.[190] He was accused of receiving funds from organizations that are funded by the United States.[191]


In court he was initially sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment, but the sentence was reduced to six months due to his heart condition. This meant that Safsari could be released on account of time already served.[192] After his release Safsari would occasionally get a call from the authorities, and he had to present himself for informal questioning.[193] In 2011, Safsari wrote a report about the February 14 protests, and it was published in Persian-language media outside Iran.[194] Although Safsari had used a pseudonym, his interrogator realized he had been the author. He was summoned and questioned about the report.[195] The intelligence official who questioned him told him that there is a chance that he could be arrested.[196] After this incident, Safsari contemplated leaving Iran.[197] When the intelligence official called him for further questioning, Safsari felt that his arrest was imminent, and he immediately left Iran.[198]


3.2.           Accounts of Authors Experiencing Censorship


Before a book can be published in Iran it must receive the approval of the MOCAIG. In this section the experiences of a number of authors interviewed by IHRDC will be examined.


3.2.1.      Abbas Maroufi


Abbas Maroufi’s experience in running the Gardoun magazine was discussed in section 3.1.2. supra. In addition to the Gardoun magazine, Maroufi also run Gardoun publishing. His experience with book censorship at the MOCAIG is an example of what authors face in Iran.            The Last Greatest Generation


In 1986 Maroufi wrote a novel entitled The Last Greatest Generation. This novel was about a wrestling coach who has accompanied his wrestling team for a competition in Egypt. While in Egypt the coach falls in love with a cleaning lady at the hotel, and he spends all his time trying to get the woman to sleep with him. Eventually the woman jumps from a window ledge to end his harassment. In the novel Maroufi had described the woman’s body. A MOCAIG official, however, told him that according to a fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini describing a woman’s body was prohibited in Islam.[199] To circumvent this problem, Maroufi changed the name of the hotel in the story to Isis, an Egyptian goddess. Then, describing a statue of Isis’s body in his novel, Maroufi wrote, “It seems as if she’s whistling...” When Maroufi finished describing the statue’s ankles, he added a line about the cleaning lady, saying, “She whistles when she cleans the windows.”[200] By adding the line about whistling, Maroufi made an indirect reference to the description of the statue of Isis, thus enabling the reader to imagine the body of the cleaning lady in the novel.[201]            Farhad’s Body


Maroufi’s account of how he obtained MOCAIG’s approval for the novel Farhad’s Body included how he used an ironic tactic to get past censorship. Maroufi indicated that some Iranian authors insert controversial or sensitive lines into their novels on purpose in order to distract the censoring officials from the actual text of their books. These additional lines are not meant to be part of the text, and the authors add them only to be marked as unacceptable by the MOCAIG. In the process, however, censoring officials are likely to overlook the rest of the text, which means that the book can be published with fewer instances of censorship. Maroufi stated that he inserted 15 controversial lines into Farhad’s Body. The novel was about the invasion of Iran by Arab armies in early Islamic history. One of the controversial lines read: “These Arabs attacked our girls with crooked swords.”[202] The MOCAIG officials in charge of approving the book had noticed and crossed out 13 of the 15 sensitive lines.[203]


3.2.2.      Reza Parchizadeh


Reza Parchizadeh is a political theorist and activist. Parchizadeh was arrested on July 13, 1999 during student protests in Tehran.[204] He was taken to the police headquarters’ detention facility in Shahpour Avenue, and he was held there for a week, during which he was physically abused by the authorities.[205]  He was released after giving a pledge to the authorities stating that he would no longer engage in subversive activities.[206] In 2007 Parchizadeh published a collection of his English poetry, with partial Persian translation. He stated that he was careful that the poems were metaphorical enough so that the book would not be rejected by the MOCAIG. The MOCAIG initially approved the book.[207] However, one day Parchizadeh’s publisher called and told him that he had received a call from the MOCAIG saying that they should stop selling Parchizadeh’s book.[208] His poems touched on topics like Iran’s nuclear program, prostitution, and President Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitism.[209]


3.2.3.      Popak Akhtari Rad


Popak Akhtari Rad is a writer and artist born in 1965 in Tehran. In his interview with IHRDC Akhtari Rad discussed a number of instances in which he experienced censorship. The first time Akhtari Rad witnessed censorship was when he was working at Agah publishing in Tehran. The individual running the publishing house had taken a book for approval to the MOCAIG. Upon his return he described some of the issues censoring officials had raised. For instance, the censoring official had flagged a sentence in a short story saying, “He zipped up.” The censoring official had reasoned that this sentence implied that the character’s zipper had been down previously, which he had considered as inappropriate.[210] Another instance of censorship at Agah publishing was when a translation of a children’s book had not been approved by the MOCAIG. The MOCAIG had found a drawing of chicken unacceptable because the chicken’s skirt was too short.[211]

Akhtari Rad’s first children’s book was published by Soroush Publications, a major publishing house owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Soroush Publications, however, rejected his second book. The book, entitled “The Wall,” was a story about a boy and a girl who were neighbors separated by a wall. At the end of the book the wall between them broke down.[212] When Akhtari Rad asked why the book was rejected, Soroush Publications held a meeting with him. In this meeting Mostafa Rahmandoust, a prominent poet and author of children’s books, was one of the individuals representing Soroush Publications.  Rahmandoust told Akhtari Rad that the story did not conform to Iran’s societal and religious norms regarding relationships between boys and girls.[213] Akhtari Rad then went to the Children and Adolescents’ Intellectual Development Center, which is administered by the Ministry of Education. His book was rejected there as well. Akhtari Rad asked for an explanation.[214] In a meeting scheduled to discuss this matter, the representative of the Children and Adolescents’ Intellectual Development Center told Akhtari Rad that the content of his book was “Western.”[215] She added that the concept of removing the wall between men and women does not conform to Iranian culture.[216] Furthermore, she saw removing the wall between men and women as a political issue.[217]


Later on Akhtari Rad tried one more time to publish his book. He contacted Nader Ebrahimi, a well-known author who had connections in the MOCAIG.[218] According to Akhtari Rad, Ebrahimi went to the MOCAIG after President Khatami’s election in 1997, hoping that the new leadership at the Ministry would increase the chances of the book’s approval. Nevertheless, Ebrahimi was told that the book would not be approved.[219]


3.2.4.      Isa Saharkhiz


Isa Saharkhiz is a former MOCAIG official and a journalist, and his account is discussed in sections 2.2.1. and 3.1.4. supra. Saharkhiz also wrote a book discussing the situation of the press and the mass closure of 2000.[220] The book’s cover depicted a cemetery with newspaper logos as grave stones.[221]According to Saharkhiz, Ataollah Mohajerani, the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, opposed to the publication of this book. Mohajerni argued that this book was a one-sided portrayal of the situation of the press in Iran.[222] Despite Saharkhiz’s suggestion that Mohajerani could write an introduction for the book reflecting his views, he did not allow the book to get published.[223]

3.3.            Restriction on Academic Freedom


3.3.1.      Cultural Revolution


The assault on Iranian universities can be traced to Ayatollah Khomeini’s own remarks. Months before the closure of Iranian universities in the spring of 1980, Ayatollah Khomeini had expressed his misgivings about Western influence in universities. On June 6, 1979, Khomeini said, “The universities must be taken seriously. Every effort should be made to set them right; to make them Islamic. Our country has taken pains for the sake of Islam. Do not expect that only the government be Islamic; no. All the affairs should be so.”[224] 


On March 21, 1980, in his message on the Iranian new year Ayatollah Khomeini stated:


A fundamental revolutionary spirit should be brought into being in the colleges throughout Iran so that the professors having links with East and West to be wiped out [sic]. The college should be made as a safe environment befitting for the higher Islamic sciences to be taught. The detrimental coaching and teaching of the past regime should be strictly avoided. All this misfortune and sufferings of the society throughout the length of the rule of father and son is due to the detrimental training and teaching. Had we practiced a principled teaching in the colleges, today we would not have had any open-minded elements.[225]


On April 15, 1980, following a Q&A session with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who later in the same year became the Speaker of the Iranian parliament, students known as followers of the path of Imam overran the university campus. The head of the University of Tabriz, Dr. Hasan Baroughi, expressed his disapproval of the students who occupied the university campus.[226] He stated that those staging the sit-in were no more than 250 to 300 individuals, and that the University of Tabriz could not be led by the feelings of a small group of students.[227] On the next day, Ettelaat reported that Baroughi and two of his deputies had resigned.[228]


On April 19, 1980 Ettelaat reported that within the previous 48 hours the control of university campuses across the country changed hands several times among rival student groups.[229] Ettelaat reported that clashes at Tarbiat-e Moallem University in Tehran had left one person dead and 25 injured.[230] Clashes at Shiraz University also reportedly left 500 people injured.[231]


Following these clashes, on April 18 the Revolutionary Council issued an ultimatum to political groups active in the universities and ordered them to leave the campuses within three days.[232] If the political groups did not leave university campuses, the Revolutionary Council warned, members of the Revolutionary Council and the public would go to universities and dismantle the political groups’ operations.[233] In addition to universities in Tehran and Shiraz, Ettelaat reported that universities in Babolsar, Mashhad and Kerman were also overrun by student groups.[234]


On April 21, 1980, at the conclusion of the Revolutionary Council’s ultimatum, clashes broke out in University of Tehran. Ettelaat reported that five persons had died while more than 300 were injured.[235] Leftist and Islamist student groups were among the main groups involved in these clashes. On April 22, Ettelaat published a statement by the student branch of the Islamic Republic Party. In this letter, the student branch of the Islamic Republic Party asked Ayatollah Khomeini to establish a Cultural Revolution Council.[236]


Clashes in other Iranian universities continued. Ahmad Jannati, a current member of the Guardian Council and a former Friday Prayer Leader in Ahvaz, played an important role in the clashes that took place in Ahvaz. He invited citizens of Ahvaz to join him at the Jondi Shapour University for the noon congregational prayer.[237] In clashes that ensued between student groups and those who went to the university on Jannati’s urging five people were reportedly killed, about 270 were injured, and a few hundred were arrested.[238] Further clashes on April 24 led to four more deaths and caused injuries to another 20 persons.[239] Meanwhile, clashes in Rasht left five people dead and 431 injured.[240] Sistan and Balouchistan University in Zahedan also saw unrest: one person was reported killed and more than 50 were injured after a group led by clerics went to the university campus to force out student group.[241]


The chaos led to the mass resignation of the interim board in charge of University of Tehran. In a letter addressed to the Minister of Culture and Higher Education, the members of the interim board criticized those who attacked the universities.[242] In a second open letter the members of this interim board criticized Ali Khamenei and Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for making false allegations regarding the university system.[243]


On June 13, 1980 Ayatollah Khomeini established the Cultural Revolution Task Force.[244] This task force was charged with training and selecting suitable professors, selecting students, creating an Islamic atmosphere in universities, and changing the universities’ curricula.[245] In September 1983 Iranian universities finally reopened, but many former professors had been terminated. Some had left after recognizing that they were no longer accepted in the new environment.[246] Abdolkarim Soroush, a member of the Cultural Revolution Task Force, stated that some individuals who were involved in the Cultural Revolution wanted to keep universities closed for twenty years.[247]However, Soroush added that he and others met with Ayatollah Khomeini and persuaded him that the universities should be reopened as soon as possible.[248] In 1984 the Cultural Revolution Task Force was reorganized as the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, and it was given legislative authority.[249] The Supreme Cultural Revolution Council has remained a powerful institution up to the present, and it continues to influence the affairs of Iranian universities.


The circumstances of a number of university professors who faced consequences in their academic careers because of their opinions or political actions are discussed below.


3.3.2.      Mahmoud Sabahy


Mahmoud Sabahy is a former professor at the Art and Architecture School of the Islamic Azad University – Central Tehran Branch. He taught there from 1999 to 2009.[250] Philosophy of theatre, sociology of theatre, history of philosophy, and sociology were among the courses he taught.[251] In his interview with IHRDC he indicated that the university took issue with him from the beginning of his academic career. Sabahy was first suspended from teaching for one year. One of the reasons for his suspension was that he was accused of promoting Marxism. He maintains, however, that he only discussed Marx within the context of teaching sociology.[252]


A speech Sabahy gave in Semnan became controversial. His speech discussed Hegel’s views. In response to a question from a seminary student during the question and answer session after the speech, Sabahy stated that based on Hegel’s view on courage, Shemr bin Dhi al-Jawshan, who killed Imam Hossein in the battle of Karbala[253], was perhaps even more courageous than Imam Hossein because he knew he was killing the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson.[254]  While in Semnan, Sabahy also criticized Ayatollah Khomeini’s statement many years prior that Hossein Fahmideh, a 13-year-old boy who had blown up an Iraqi tank in a suicide mission during the war, was worthy of being the country’s leader.  The seminary student present at the venue of the speech informed the Friday Prayer leader of Semnan about Sabahy’s remarks, and the Friday Prayer leader spoke out against Sabahy.[255] Upon his return to Tehran, Sabahy was summoned by the herasat office and accused of making anti-religion statements.[256] The IRGC Intelligence Division of Semnan had filed a complaint against Sabahy.[257] This complaint was one of the reasons behind Sabahy’s one-year suspension. The herasat office told Sabahy that if he went to Semnan and convinced the IRGC Intelligence Division to withdraw its complaint, he could resume teaching.[258] Sabahy did not accept this suggestion.[259]


In 2009, Sabahy was officially expelled from his university due to pressure from the MOI. Prior to his dismissal, Sabahy faced a long session of questioning at an MOI facility separate from the herasat office. Sabahy was questioned about a wide variety of topics, including whether he knew how to recite a particular prayer.[260]  Another question was what he thought about President Ahmadinejad, to which Sabahy replied that he did not believe Ahmadinejad was qualified to represent the Iranian people.[261]  They also asked Sabahy about his private life, including his relationship with his wife. Sabahy was given a sheet of paper including several conditions, and he was told that he could return to work if he pledged to comply by those conditions.[262]  Sabahy refused to accept their conditions. One of the conditions was loyalty to the Supreme Leader.[263]


In a letter dated March 9, 2009 Sabahy was informed that he was being suspended for two semesters. Later on Sabahy was orally informed of his permanent expulsion by the head of his department. Sabahy left Iran in 2010.[264]


3.3.3.      Mohammad Sharif


Mohammad Sharif was a law professor at Allameh Tabataba’i University. In April 2010 he was fired from his position without any explanation provided to him.[265] Sharif stated that representing prisoners probably was the real reason for which he was terminated.[266] His termination occurred two months after remarks by Kamran Daneshjou, Minister of Science, Research and Technolohy, indicating that university professors should believe in the concept of guardianship of the jurist.[267] Sharif lodged a complaint with the Court of Administrative Justice. However, in 2013, more than two years after he was fired, his complaint was not yet considered by this court.[268]


3.3.4.      Morteza Mardiha


Morteza Mardiha was a philosophy professor at Allameh Tabataba’i University. He was terminated from his position in April 2010.[269] His termination, like that of Mohammad Sharif, occurred about two months after remarks by Iran’s Minister of Science, Research and Technology, who stated that university professors should believe in guardianship of the jurist.[270]


3.4.           Censorship of the Arts


Individuals engaging in various forms of art have been subject to strict censorship since the formation of the Islamic Republic. Censorship has been motivated by both political and religious concerns.


3.4.1.      Atena Farghadani


Atena Farghadani, an artist and civil rights activist, was arrested on August 23, 2014.[271] One of the reasons for her arrest was a cartoon in which she had depicted members of the Iranian parliament as animals. She had reportedly shared this cartoon on her Facebook page. [272] Farghadani had drawn this cartoon in protest to a bill passed by the Iranian parliament aimed at restricting birth control.[273]


Figure 5: This cartoon by Atena Farghadani was one of the reasons for her arrest and conviction.



Farghadani, who was being held at ward 2-A of Evin Prison, was released on bail in November 2014.[274] However, she was summoned and taken to Qarchak Prison after she posted a video[275] on Youtube in which she described how the restrooms in ward 2-A were monitored by cameras.[276] Qarchak Prison, primarily used to detain individuals charged with common crimes, is considered to have one of the worst sanitary conditions among prisons in the country. Farghadani went on a hunger strike to protest her detention at Qarchak Prison, and she was eventually transferred to Evin Prison in March 2015.[277] In June 2015 it was announced that Farghadani had been sentenced to 12 years and nine months of imprisonment by Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court.[278] She could be released after seven years under the 2013 Islamic Penal Code. Farghadani’s charges were conspiring against national security, disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic, and insulting the Supreme Leader, the president, members of the parliament and officers of ward 2-A of Evin Prison during her interrogations.[279] Her appeal is pending in Branch 54 of the Appeals Court.[280]


3.4.2.      Fatemeh Ekhtesari


Fatemeh Ekhtesari, a poet, was arrested in December 2013 by the IRGC intelligence division. She was sentenced to eleven and a half years of imprisonment in October 2015. One of the charges leveled against Ekhtesari was insulting sacred Islamic values, for which she reportedly received seven years of imprisonment.[281] According to her lawyer, many of her works of poetry were published after being approved by the MOCAIG. He further added that her poetry did not contain material offending sacred religious values.[282]


3.4.3.      Mehdi Mousavi


Mehdi Mousavi is another poet who received a lengthy prison sentence. Mousavi was first arrested in December 2013 by the IRGC intelligence division. In October 2015 he was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment, six years of which was for the charge of insulting sacred religious values.[283] Mousavi indicated that the court opinion was dated June 22, 2015, which was before the last session of his trial, in which he presented his defense arguments.[284]


3.5.            Censorship of the Internet


Article 21 of the Computer Crimes Law, passed in 2009, provides for the formation of the Task Force to Determine Illegal Content. This Task Force is charged with specifying the websites that should be filtered by internet service providers operating in Iran. The regulatory code promulgated by this Task Force lists numerous examples of content that should be filtered. Some of the topics mentioned by this code are:


  • Promoting illegitimate and illegal luxuries
  • Atheistic and anti-Islamic content
  • Any content harming the foundations of the Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Dissemination of any content aimed at encouraging boycott of elections or a low turnout
  • Using images of women as means in election campaigns
  • Publishing any insulting or destructive content about candidates in a presidential election[285]

As it is evident by the examples provided above, this regulatory code can be used to filter a wide array of websites. In practice, filtering of websites has been an arbitrary process in the past few years.

3.5.1.      Examples of Filtered Websites


Numerous websites are filtered by the Iranian government. In this section, a few instances of filtering and the reasons behind their censorship are briefly discussed.            Jamaran News


Jamaran News, a website affiliated with Hasan Khomeini, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, was briefly filtered in February 2015. The filtering was reportedly due to the website’s publishing of former President Mohammad Khatami’s pictures.[286] The Iranian judiciary had declared that the media were prohibited from publishing Mohammad Khatami’s name or picture.[287] This decree was not issued after a trial or any other judicial process. Jamaran News was unfiltered after it promptly removed Mohammad Khatami’s pictures.[288]            Entekhab


In October 2014, Entekhab, a news site considered as moderate, was filtered after it criticized a number of officials in the Rouhani administration.[289] The filtering ended after 90 days when the government officials who had filed complaints withdrew their complaints.[290]            WhatsApp


In May 2104 the secretary of the Task Force to Determine Illegal Content announced that WhatsApp, a popular messaging app, was being filtered. He stated that the main reason for filtering of foreign mobile messaging apps is “uncontrollable sharing” of illegal content.[291] He also mentioned the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who, according to him, is a “Zionist.”[292]

3.5.2.      Cyber Police


Iran’s Cyber Police was established in January 2011.[293] According to its website, the Cyber Police’s duties include protecting religious and national identity and stopping attacks against social values and mores.            Sattar Beheshti


In 2012, Sattar Beheshti, an Iranian blogger, was arrested by the Cyber Police. Beheshti died a few days later while in custody. Beheshti’s death caused engendered a strong scrutiny of the Cyber Police. Beheshti was arrested on October 30, 2012 by the Cyber Police.[294] He was charged with disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic, insulting the values of the Islamic Republic, and conspiring to act against national security.”[295] After being arrested, Beheshti was taken to the Cyber Police detention facility.[296] Beheshti was subsequently taken to Evin Prison, where he underwent a medical examination. At the request of the Cyber Police, a procurator signed an order sending Beheshti to the detention facility of police headquarters on Shahpour Avenue. The Cyber Police, however, violated this order and transferred Beheshti back to the Cyber Police’s own detention facility on November 1, 2012.[297] Two days later Beheshti was found dead. Signs of physical abuse were found on Beheshti’s body.[298] After an investigation, one police officer was charged and convicted of semi-intentional murder, and he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment.[299]  A number of political prisoners held in ward 350 of Evin Prison, stated that during the short period that Beheshti had spent there they had seen signs of torture on his body. They also quoted him as saying, “They want to kill me.”[300]            The Bloggers’ Case


With the advent of the internet the Iranian government was faced with a new platform for speech that it deemed undesirable. One of the early cases of prosecution of individuals for online activity was the “bloggers’ case.” A 2009 IHRDC report entitled Forced Confessions: Targeting Iran’s Cyber-Journalists explored the developments in this case in significant detail.[301]


 In 2004, twenty individuals including journalists, bloggers and activists were arrested.[302] Shahram Rafizadeh, Babak Ghafouri Azar, Hanif Mazroui, Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, Omid Memarian, Fereshteh Ghazi, Javad Gholam Tamimi and Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh were among those arrested.[303] After the arrested individuals were gradually released, allegations of abuse against them surfaced. Eventually they met with the head of the Iranian judiciary.[304] The judiciary admitted that certain violations had taken place, and that only four persons were to face charges.[305]  These four individuals were forced to confess to their crimes in TV interviews.[306] Several years later, on February 5, 2009, Javad Gholam Tamimi was sentenced to three years and three months of imprisonment and ten lashes; Shahram Rafizadeh was sentenced to nine months of imprisonment and twenty lashes; Roozbeh Mirebrahimi was sentenced to two years of imprisonment and 84 lashes; and Omid Memarian was sentenced to two years and six months of imprisonment, 10 lashes, and a fine of 500,000 toumans (approximately $518 per the exchange rate at the time).[307] By the time these sentences were issued, however, Rafizadeh, Mirebrahimi, and Memarian had already left Iran.[308]


4.      Restrictions Imposed on Freedom of Expression through Iran’s Domestic Law


The laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran contain explicit violations of the freedom of expression. These laws, which govern various aspects of life, serve the government’s purposes through curbing both political and religious speech.


4.1.           Restrictions Imposed on Freedom Of Expression through Iran’s Criminal Code


Iran’s criminal code, known as the Islamic Penal Code, imposes serious penalties for certain kinds of religious and political speech. Based on Shari’a law, the Islamic Penal Code contains provisions that severely punish anti-religious speech. Iran’s penal code also treats the Islamic Republic as a “holy” government deserving of respect. Therefore, political speech deemed to challenge this concept, especially speech deemed offensive to Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, is criminalized.


4.1.1.      Article 262 and 263 of the IPC: Insulting the Prophet Mohamamd


Articles 262 and 263 of the IPC address the crime of insulting the Prophet. Article 262 declares:


Anyone who swears at or commits qazf[309] against the Great Prophet [of Islam] (peace be upon him) or any of the Great Prophets, shall be considered as Sāb ul-nabi [a person who swears at the Prophet], and shall be sentenced to the death penalty.


Note- Commission of qazf against, or swearing at, the [twelve] Shia’ Imams (peace be upon them) or the Holy Fatima (peace be upon her) shall be regarded as Sab-e nabi.


Article 263 states:


When the accused of a sabb-e nabi (swearing at the Prophet) claims that his or her statements have been under coercion or mistake, or in a state of drunkenness, or anger or slip of the tongue, or without paying attention to the meaning of the words, or quoting someone else, then he or she shall not be considered as Sāb ul-nabi [a person who swears at the Prophet].


Note- When a sabb-e nabi (swearing at the Prophet) is committed in the state of drunkenness, or anger or quoting someone else, if it is considered to be an insult, the offender shall be sentenced to a ta’zir punishment of up to seventy-four lashes.


In recent years, however, the IRI has charged two men with this offense. Both have been sentenced to death; however, neither sentence has been carried out. In October 2011 Rouhollah Tavana, a quality control engineer from Mashhad, was arrested by the Iranian authorities. He was charged with insulting the Prophet when the authorities found a video on his computer in which he made a vulgar comment directed at the Prophet Mohammad.[310] In August 2013 Tavana was sentenced to death by Fifth Branch of the Khorasan Razavi Criminal Court. His sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in February 2014, but it has not yet been carried out.[311]


Soheil Arabi is another man charged with swearing at the Prophet. He was arrested in 2013 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).[312] Arabi reportedly had eight Facebook pages in which he had posted material that insulted the Prophet Mohamamd and Shia’ Imams.[313] While Arabi told the court that he had written those posts while he was not in a normal state, and that he regretted writing them, he was found guilty and sentenced to death on August 30, 2014 by Branch 76 of the Tehran Criminal Court.[314] While the Supreme Court had reportedly upheld the sentence, on July 28, 2015 reports emerged that Branch 24 of the Supreme Court has reversed Arabi’s sentence.[315]


On remand, Arabi was sentenced to 90 months of imprisonment by Branch 10 of the First Tehran Province Criminal Court.[316] In addition he has been sentenced to two years of studying Islam so that it can be established that he “regrets” his past behavior. Arabi must study 13 books on religious topics. He should also present a 5-10 page summary of each book, and must present questions to be answered by two religious institutions. He will also be compelled to present these questions and answers to the court in writing. Moreover, Arabi must write an article on religion in which he uses five to ten books as references.[317]




Figure 6: Soheil Arabi, right, was sentenced to death for swearing at the Prophet and Shia’ Imams. His sentence has been invalidated by Iran’s Supreme Court and he is currently awaiting a new trial.


4.1.2.      Article 286 of the 2013 IPC: Spreading Lies


Article 286 of the IPC addresses the serious offenses of “rebellion” and “sowing corruption on earth,” both of which are punishable by death. This article states that “spreading lies” may constitute sowing corruption on earth if it results in “severe disruption in the public order of the state and insecurity, or causes harsh damage to the bodily entity of people or public or private properties, or causes distribution of corruption and prostitution on a large scale.”[318]


The inclusion of the phrase “spreading lies” among activities that could be considered a capital offense leaves the door open to prosecution of citizens for exercising their right to free expression.


4.1.3.      Article 500 of the Fifth Book of the IPC: Disseminating Propaganda against the Islamic Republic


“Disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic” is one of the most common charges leveled against political dissidents, journalists, bloggers, lawyers, religious minorities and others whose activities are considered a threat to the Islamic Republic. Article 500 of the Fifth Book of the IPC provides:


Anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations, shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.[319]


The overbroad language of this provision effectively means that any negative comment or statement regarding the Iranian government may be a prosecutable offense. In practice, this provision has been used against a wide array of individuals and activists, including government officials.


In 2014, Ghoncheh Ghavami was arrested days after she attempted to enter a stadium to watch a men’s volleyball match between Iran and Italy. In recent years women have been barred from watching volleyball matches, although no law explicitly bans women from such events. Ghavami was sentenced to one year of imprisonment on the charge of disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic.[320] She was also barred from leaving Iran for two years. She was released on bail in November 2014.[321]


In 2015, Ahmad Tavakkoli, a prominent conservative member of the Iranian parliament, faced the charge of disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic. The charge reportedly stemmed from the comments left by users of the website Alef, which is closely associated with Tavakkoli.[322]


Tavakkoli was found guilty of insulting the president and the head of the judiciary, but acquitted him of other charges. Tavakkoli was sentenced to six months of imprisonment, but the sentence was suspended for two years.[323] Tavakkoli stated that the users’ comments on his website were the basis for his conviction.[324]


Tahmineh Milani, a renowned Iranian director, is facing the similar charge of disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic for the content of one of her screenplays. She indicated that she was summoned to the Culture and Media Prosecutor’s Office.[325] Milani described the screenplay, which had obtained all the required permits by the MOCAIG, as the “epic tale of a woman who confronts violence and bloodshed through tact, wisdom and the arts.”[326]


Figure 7: Tahmineh Milani, a renowned Iranian director, is facing the charge of propaganda against the Islamic Republic for a screenplay.


Esmail Abdi, the secretary of the Tehran Teachers’ Union, was charged with disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic on June 27, 2015.[327] His arrest followed a teachers’ rally in Tehran during which teachers demanded higher wages and the release of three teachers imprisoned for their activism.[328] Abdi was reportedly threatened by MOI agents that he would be imprisoned if he continued his activities.[329] This threat was made before the teachers’ rally.[330]

Criticizing former President Ahmadinejad’s subsidy reform program resulted in the prosecution of Fariborz Raees Dana, an economist critical of President Ahmadinejad’s policies. Raees Dana, who was arrested in 2010, was convicted of disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic and served one year of imprisonment.[331]

4.1.4.      Article 513 of the Fifth Book: Insulting Islamic Sacred Beliefs


Article 513 of the Fifth Book of the IPC states:


Anyone who insults the sacred values of Islam or any of the Great Prophets or [twelve] Shia’ Imams or the Holy Fatima, if considered as Saab ul-nabi [as having committed actions warranting the hadd punishment for insulting the Prophet], shall be executed; otherwise, they shall be sentenced to one to five years’ imprisonment.


This provision, which provides for the lesser punishment of imprisonment of individuals who insult religious beliefs, is invoked considerably more frequently than the charge of swearing at the Prophet, which carries the death penalty.


Mohammad Hasan Yousefpour, a human rights activist, was arrested in the summer of 2011. He was sentenced to two and half years of imprisonment for insulting sacred Islamic beliefs. This charge was leveled against him for an article on his blog about temporary marriage in the holy city of Mashhad, and for an article entitled “Women’s Situation in Iran.”[332] He was also sentenced to three years of imprisonment on national security charges.[333]


Soheil Babadi was arrested on May 21, 2012 for posting satirical pieces on a Facebook page entitled “the Campaign to Remind the Shia’ of Imam Naghi.” The Facebook page, which in September 2015 had more than 33,000 followers, pokes fun at Imam Naghi, the tenth Shia’ Imam.[334] Babadi was charged with insulting sacred Islamic beliefs, and he was sentenced to five years of imprisonment.[335]


In November 2013 the Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor of Rafsanjan stated that eight individuals were arrested for writing offensive material online.[336] The offensive material included insults to the Prophet Mohammad and Shia’ Imams, and it also included denying the existence of God.[337]

In November 2014 Khorasan newspaper reported that four individuals were arrested for sending text messages offensive to sacred Islamic beliefs through Viber, a text-messaging application.[338] The arrests of these individuals followed a complaint by another individual who had found the material shared through the Viber group offensive.[339]


4.1.5.      Article 514 of the Fifth Book: Insulting Ayatollah Khomeini and the Supreme Leader


Article 514 of the Fifth Book of the IPC declares, “Anyone who, by any means, insults Imam Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, or the Supreme Leader shall be sentenced to six months to two years’ imprisonment.” The law does not define what may constitute an insult. Furthermore, the way in which this provision is drafted implies that it may only be applicable to the current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and not his future successors.[340]


A cartoon published in the Farad magazine in 1992 resulted in an uproar among the conservative establishment.[341] The cartoon depicted a soccer player, but the face of the cartoon was interpreted to be that of Ayatollah Khomeini. Following the publication of this cartoon the office of Farad magazine was vandalized by a mob.[342] Hasan Karimzadeh, the 19-year-old cartoonist, was initially sentenced to one year of imprisonment, fifty lashes, and a fine of 50,000 toumans (approximately $336 per the exchange rate at the time).[343] Tehran’s Revolutionary Prosecutor was not satisfied with this sentence and appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court sentenced Karimzadeh to ten years of imprisonment; however, he was released after serving two years.[344] Farad magazine was never published again.[345] Farad’s editor claimed that he had nothing to do with the cartoon, and that he was not aware of it before it was published. He was sentenced to six months of imprisonment and 50 lashes.[346]




Figure 8: This cartoon was interpreted to depict Ayatollah Khomeini. Hasan Karimzadeh, the 19-year-old cartoonist, spent two years in prison for this cartoon.


Another controversial cartoon that was interpreted as depicting Ayatollah Khomeini caused the closure of Hayat-e No newspaper in January 2003.[347]. The cartoon was from the era of President Franklin Roosevelt’s court-packing controversy. However, the image of the Supreme Court, which was depicted as an elderly man, was believed to resemble Ayatollah Khomeini.[348] President Roosevelt’s figurative thumb on the elderly man’s head was perceived as an attempt to humiliate Ayatollah Khomeini. The conservative establishment’s backlash against the paper was strong, and it resulted in the closure of the newspaper and the arrest of three staff members.[349] Two were released immediately, but one, Alireza Eshraghi, spent 58 days in jail for having selected this cartoon for publication alongside an interview about social capital and the role that it plays in public affairs.[350] Eshraghi indicated that he had spent 53 days in solitary confinement in ward 209 of Evin Prison.[351] Following his release, which was secured on a bail of 25 million toumans (approximately $31,289 per the exchange rate at the time), Eshraghi stated that he there was no intent on his part to insult Ayatollah Khomeini, and the text accompanying the cartoon did not mention Ayatollah Khomeini at all.[352]

Figure 9: This cartoon, which pertains to President Franklin Roosevelt’s disagreements with the U.S. Supreme Court in 1930s, caused the closure of Hayat-e No newspaper and the arrest of three individuals working at the newspaper in 2003. The image of the Supreme Court, depicted as an elderly man, was seen by some as reminiscent of Ayatollah Khomeini.


In September 2014 an IRGC commander in Shiraz announced that eleven individuals were arrested by the IRGC for sending text messages that were offensive to Ayatollah Khomeini.[353] The IRGC commander described these individuals as “swindled” persons who were leading the dissemination of material that insulted the founder of the Islamic Republic.[354] Portraying the text messages as a security threat, the IRGC commander said that the messages were possibly an attempt by Western intelligence services to “desensitize” making fun of the “values of the Islamic Revolution.”[355] On October 1, 2014 the Fars Province affiliate of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) showed confessions of some of the arrested individuals.[356] The theme of these confessions was that these individuals were mostly not aware of the content of the text messages, and that they were only sending them for fun.[357] The faces of these persons were not shown in the news item.

The charge of insulting the Supreme Leader was brought against Ghasem Sho’lesa’di, a former member of parliament, in 2002 and again in 2011. In 2002 Sho’lesa’di wrote an open letter[358] to Ayatollah Khamenei which led to his arrest. In this letter Sho’lesa’di wrote:


Don’t you know that under Article 39 of the Constitution even affronts to the dignity and repute of persons arrested, detained, imprisoned, or banished in accordance with the law, whatever form they may take, are forbidden and liable to punishment, let alone those who feel responsible and do not have anything in their minds except defending this country’s national interests? How can you hurl so many insults at those who do not agree with you?[359]


But his conviction was eventually overturned.[360] In 2011, he was convicted of the same crime and the additional charge of disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic. His comments in the interviews he had given were the basis of these charges. He was sentenced to one year of imprisonment, and he was barred from practicing law or teaching at universities for ten years.[361] Sho’lesa’di was released in the summer of 2012.[362]


Mehdi Farahi Shandiz, a labor activist who has been arrested on several occasions, has been convicted of insulting the Supreme Leader on three different occasions.[363] Consequently, he has been sentenced to nine years of imprisonment. Two of his three convictions were based on his actions in prison.[364] While in prison, uttering slogans such as “death to Khamenei” and “death to dictator” reportedly provoked the authorities.[365]


Abolfazl Ghadyani, a reformist political prisoner, was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for insulting the Supreme Leader in      December 2011.[366] The basis for this charge was interviews in which Ghadyani had criticized Ayatollah Khamenei’s approach in suppressing protests that ensued following the 2009 presidential election.[367] When questioned by the authorities, Ghadyani had stated that Mr. Khamenei is a dictator, and that he has usurped the right of the Iranian people to govern themselves.[368]

The charge of insulting sacred religious belief was also brought against Atena Daemi, a children’s rights activist.[369] Daemi, who was arrested in October 2014, faced numerous charges and was sentenced to fourteen years of imprisonment.[370] Insulting sacred religious beliefs was one of the charges against her. This charge was based on her opposition to the Islamic veil and the death penalty, and that she had listened to the music of Shahin Najafi[371], in which Shia’ Imams were ridiculed.[372]


The charge of insulting the Supreme Leader can ensnare ordinary citizens who are not political activists. In March 2015, Roozbeh Karamjani, a resident of the town of Robat Karim in Tehran Province, was arrested after he allegedly imitated Ayatollah Khamenei in a private gathering.[373] Four of his neighbors, who did not approve of his action, reported him to the authorities and testified against him. Karamjani’s bail was set at 200 million toumans (approximately $58,565 per the exchange rate at the time) and he was transferred to Rajaeeshahr Prison.[374]


An Afghan citizen residing in Iran named Shafiollah Nouri was arrested for insulting both Ayatollah Khomeini and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2015.[375] According to HRANA, Nouri was active in cyberspace. He was taken to ward 8 of Evin Prison after his arrest.[376]


4.1.6.      Article 609 of the Fifth Book: Insulting Government Officials


Article 609 of the IPC states:


Anyone who insults any of the Heads of three powers [of the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature]  or Vice-Presidents or Ministers or Members of Parliament or Members of the Council of Experts [for Leadership] or Members of the Guardian Council or judges or Members of the Audit Court or civil servants of Ministries and governmental organizations and companies and municipalities while they are performing their duties, or [if the (offender) insults them] in connection with their duties, shall be sentenced to three to six months of imprisonment or up to 74 lashes or a fine of fifty thousand to one million Rials.


In the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election a number of political activists received flogging sentences for allegedly insulting President Ahmadinejad. Somayeh Tohidlou, a Ph.D. sociology student and a member of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s presidential campaign, was flogged on September 14, 2011.[377] She indicated that her flogging had taken place in a symbolic manner, and that it did not cause physical pain to her. Nevertheless, she also wrote that “the feeling of humiliation burned my entire being.”[378] The exact act that led to the charge of insulting the president was not specified.


Amin Niayifar, a mechanical engineering student at University of Tehran, was also flogged for insulting President Ahmadinejad.[379] Niayifar was arrested during the protests of December 27, 2009, and he was sentenced to two years of imprisonment, 18 months of which were suspended, and 30 lashes. He was flogged on October 17, 2011, in Evin Prison. According to reports he was in severe pain, but was returned to his ward without receiving any medical treatment.[380]


Figure 10: Peyman Aref, a student activist and a member of the Iran National Front, received 74 lashes for insulting President Ahmadinejad. His flogging sentence was carried out on the day he was scheduled to be released from prison.


Peyman Aref, a student activist and a member of the Iran National Front, was also sentenced to 74 lashes for insulting President Ahmadinejad.[381] According to his wife, Aref had written an open letter to President Ahmadinejad entitled, “Do You Know What You Did with Universities?” However, she stated, this letter did not contain any insults.[382] In this letter Aref wrote:


I never wrote you a letter because I truly did not consider you worthy of being addressed as a person in power. But today, as your administration is its twilight and the era of your “dark cabinet” at its end, I decided to write this letter for the historical record, and for you to understand what you have done to universities.[383]


Aref’s flogging sentence was carried out on October 9, 2011, the day he was scheduled to be released from prison.[384] President Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying that he was not pleased that a young person was flogged for insulting him when the rich and the powerful were getting away with making false accusations against him.[385] After his flogging Aref stated, “Here, in an Iran that Ahmadinejad says is the freest country in the world, I have been flogged on the charge of insulting Ahmadinejad.”[386]


Abbas Salimi Namin, a conservative figure who heads the Office of the Study and Writing of Iranian History, was also prosecuted for insulting President Ahmadinejad. Criticizing President Ahmadinejad, Salimi Namin had stated that Ahmadinejad had become delusional.[387] Branch 1057 of the Government Employees’ Public Criminal Court tried Salimi Namin for this and other charges. The court found Salimi Namin guilty of insulting the president and sentenced him to six months of imprisonment. He was also found guilty of insulting Abdollah Jasbi, the former head of the Azad University, and he was sentenced to 74 lashes.[388] He was also fined for making statements against the Iranian judiciary and the Islamic Republic as a whole.[389]

4.1.7.      Article 698 of the Fifth Book: Dissemination of Falsehood for the Purpose of Inflicting Harm or Disturbing Public Opinion or that of the Authorities


Article 698 of the IPC declares:


Anyone who, with the intent to cause damage to someone or to disrupt the opinion of the authorities or the public by [sending] a letter or complaint or correspondence or petitions or reports or distribution of printed or written papers, whether signed or without a signature, lies or falsely attributes some acts to an individual or a legal person or officials, whether explicitly or implicitly or whether directly or indirectly, and whether or not it causes material or spiritual damages, in addition to restitution of the prestige [of the victim] if possible, shall be sentenced to two months to two years’ imprisonment or up to 74 lashes.


This provision, which broadly targets anyone who writes a false statement, has been used to stifle dissenting voices. In September 2012, for instance, ten employees of a government agency in Ardabil were arrested because they had allegedly created a blog in which they had “disseminated falsehoods” regarding their workplace.[390]


An incident in the town of Andimeshk in Khuzestan Province demonstrates the extent to which the definition of “dissemination of falsehoods” can be extended. On May 4, 2015, the Andimeshk Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor announced that two individuals who had spread false news online had been arrested.[391] He stated that these individuals had taken this action to create an atmosphere of insecurity and to disturb the public opinion. The false news referred to by the prosecutor was the news that eleven individuals had been killed in a fight between two families. This incident had actually taken place in 2009.[392] The Andimeshk governor stated that spreading this story, which was several years old, amounted to disturbing public opinion.[393]


4.2.           Restrictions Imposed on Freedom of Expression by the Press Law



Article 24 of the Iranian Constitution declares:


Publications and the press have freedom of expression except when it is detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public. The details of this exception will be specified by law.


Over the years what can be considered “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam” has been defined very broadly, and it has even included various expressions of Islamic belief.


The Press Law, last amended in 2009, expands the constitution’s constraint on freedom of expression. Publishing atheistic articles or content that is prejudicial to Islamic codes, propagating luxury and extravagance, insulting Islam and its sanctities, offending senior Islamic jurists, quoting articles from the “deviant press, parties and groups which oppose Islam,” and publishing statements against the Constitution are among actions expressly prohibited by Article 6 of this law.[394]


The press law also restricts the individuals who may own or operate a media outlet. To be able to obtain a permit, a person must be a citizen of Iran and at least 25 years of age.[395] Furthermore, he or she should not be in bankruptcy due to his or her own mistake. He or she should also not be publicly known for “deviance,” and nor should he or she have been convicted of a crime that is punishable by loss of social rights.[396] Other conditions are having a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent from a religious seminary and acceptance of the constitution of the Islamic Republic.[397] In order to make a decision regarding these qualifications, the Press Oversight Board should request a background check from the MOI, the police, and the Ministry of Justice.[398]


4.2.1.      The Press Oversight Board


The Press Oversight Board, the key institution responsible for regulation of the press, is comprised of the following:


  1. A judge selected by the head of the judiciary.
  2. Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance or his or her fully authorized representative. 
  3. A Majlis deputy selected by the Majlis.
  4. A university professor appointed by the Minister of Culture and Higher Education.
  5. One of the press managing editors elected by managing editors of the press. 
  6. One of the teachers of the Qom religious seminary as elected by the Supreme Council of the Religious Seminary of Qom.
  7. One of the Members of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution selected by that council.[399]


The judiciary, the parliament, the Qom religious seminary, and the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution—all conservative centers of power—are represented in the Press Oversight Board. Therefore, even when a relatively moderate administration takes control of the executive branch, religious conservatives maintain a strong presence at the Press Oversight Board.


4.2.2.      The Press Court


Article 168 of the Iranian Constitution declares that offenses related to the press should be tried in Ministry of Justice courts.[400] While the term “press court” is often used in the Iranian context, in reality there is no special court specifically designed to hear press cases. In cases brought against the press, the trial is held in public courts, but a jury is also convened in accordance with Article 168 of the Iranian Constitution.[401] In fact, the press cases are the only cases in which a jury is used.[402]


The Press Law specifies that jurors should have these qualifications:


  1. Being at least 30 years old.
  2. Being married.
  3. Not having a serious criminal record.
  4. Being known for trustworthiness, honesty and good character.
  5. Scientific qualification and familiarity with cultural and press-related issues.[403]


The court will have quorum with the presence of seven jurors, and the jury can reach a decision with a majority.[404]            Punishments under the Press Law


Article 35 of the Press Law delineates some of the punishments that offending media outlets may face. According to this article, an offending media outlet may be sentenced to a fine between 100,000 to 2 million toumans (approximately $30 to $593 per the 2015 exchange rate), or the closure of the publication for a maximum of six months or a year, respectively. In addition, the law states that when an offense is punishable by imprisonment or flogging, the court may alternatively sentence the offending media outlet to a fine between 200,000 to 5 million toumans (approximately $59 to $1483 per the 2015 exchange rate), the closure of the publication for six months, if it is a newspaper, and for one year if it is another type of publication.[405] Furthermore, an offending individual may be banned from all kinds of press activity for five years.

The more serious punishment of cancelling a publication’s permit may be imposed when a publication commits one of the offenses mentioned in Article 6 of the Law. In addition, the Press Supervisory Board may revoke the license of a publication whenever it finds that the person holding the license no longer possesses the required qualifications mentioned in Article 9.[406]            Judge Mortazavi and Mass Closure of Newspapers


In the spring of 2000 Saeed Mortazavi, who was the judge in charge of the Press Court, began what became known as the “mass closure” of newspapers. The law that Mortazavi relied on was a Pahlavi-era statute meant for prosecution of dangerous criminals.[407] The law, passed in April 1960, was meant to prevent repeat offences by dangerous criminals, and it defined dangerous criminals as individuals who their records, characters, and the crimes that they had committed rendered them “under suspicion” for committing crimes in the future.[408] Judge Mortazavi relied on Article 13 of this law to shut down newspapers on the pretense of fighting crime.[409] Article 13 actually addressed devices that could be utilized in commission of a crime.[410] Therefore, Mortazavi’s legal justification for shutting down newspapers was that they were devices with which criminal activity could take place. Article 13 of this statute specifically stated that with the request of the prosecutor and approval of a judge a device could be confiscated even though it might not be possible to prosecute or convict a person in connection with a crime.[411] About twenty publications were closed by Mortazavi in this manner.[412]


5.      Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion and Freedom of Expression under International Law


Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party, address the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and the right to freedom of expression, respectively. Article 18 of the ICCPR declares, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.” Article 19 of the ICCPR states, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”


To evaluate the Islamic Republic of Iran’s compliance with its international obligations under the ICCPR, it is necessary to discuss the extent to which the rights mentioned in Articles 18 and 19 of the ICCPR are limited under international law.


5.1.           Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion


The General Comment No. 22 to the ICCPR states:


Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms "belief" and "religion" are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.[413]


The IRI explicitly discriminates against many types of belief, including atheistic belief. As discussed in Section 5, various codes governing employment at state agencies specifically prohibit employment of individuals expressing atheistic beliefs and members of “misguided sects,” a term often used to describe members of the Bahá’í Faith.


5.2.           Freedom of Expression


Interpreting Article 19 of the ICCPR, the General Comment No. 34 declares:


Paragraph 1 of article 19 requires protection of the right to hold opinions without interference. This is a right to which the Covenant permits no exception or restriction. Freedom of opinion extends to the right to change an opinion whenever and for whatever reason a person so freely chooses. No person may be subject to the impairment of any rights under the Covenant on the basis of his or her actual, perceived or supposed opinions. All forms of opinion are protected, including opinions of a political, scientific, historic, moral or religious nature. It is incompatible with paragraph 1 to criminalize the holding of an opinion. The harassment, intimidation or stigmatization of a person, including arrest, detention, trial or imprisonment for reasons of the opinions they may hold, constitutes a violation of article 19, paragraph 1.[414]


Regarding permissible limits on freedom of expression, Article 19.3 of the ICCPR states:


The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.[415]


Iranian law contains some provisions that are drafted in a language resembling Article 19.3. For instance, the Islamic Penal Code criminalizes insulting government officials and speech that threatens national security. However, these restrictions are often overbroad. In addition, in practice, restrictions on freedom of expression far exceed the purpose and spirit of permissible restrictions delineated in Article 19.3 of the ICCPR.


To examine the permissible limits on freedom of expression, reviewing the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights is instructive. Under European Union law, freedom of expression is protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In language similar to Article 19 of the ICCPR, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights declares:


  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
  2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.[416]


In Dink v. Turkey, a case involving Turkey’s prosecution of an ethnic Armenian writer and the failure to protect his life, the European Court of Human Rights commented on the permissible limits on freedom of expression. The Turkish government had charged Dink with the crime of “denigrating Turkish identity” through making statements such as: “The purified blood that will replace the blood poisoned by the ‘Turk’ can be found in the noble vein linking Armenians to Armenia.”[417] In a unanimous decision the court held that Dink’s conviction was an impermissible restriction on his right to free expression. The court also held that Dink’s punishment did not serve any pressing social need.[418]


Another case decided by the European Court of Human Rights, however, held that the Austrian government’s seizure of a film that was disparaging to Catholic doctrine did not violate Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[419] In Otto-Preminger-Institut v. Austria the court reasoned that government’s action against the film was a legitimate exercise of state power because it was aimed at protecting the “right of citizens not to be insulted in their religious feelings by the public expression of views of other persons.” Thus, under Article 10-2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which lists protection of “rights of others” as a legitimate purpose for limiting freedom of expression, the court upheld the Austrian government’s action.[420] The court, however, also stressed the importance of the proportionality of state’s action to the committed offense:


[A]s a matter of principle it may be considered necessary in certain democratic societies to sanction or even prevent improper attacks on objects of religious veneration, provided always that any "formality", "condition", "restriction" or "penalty" imposed be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.[421]


Comparing Iranian law and the way it is applied in practice to how the European Court of Human Rights has interpreted the right to freedom of expression demonstrates that the IRI constantly violates the right to freedom of expression through either restricting speech that should be permitted, or through imposing disproportionate punishments where there could be legitimate grounds for restricting speech. By conflating the religious and political spheres, the Iranian government criminalizes political speech as anti-religious. Furthermore, even if one accepts the holding of the European Court of Human Rights in Otto-Preminger-Institut v. Austria, the harsh punishments imposed by the IRI for religious offenses are disproportionate. The IPC, for instance, condemns a person who is convicted of swearing at the Prophet to death. For lesser offenses the law imposes imprisonment. In addition, an individual who expresses his or her religious beliefs in an unconventional manner could be precluded from obtaining employment at state agencies.



As this report demonstrates, freedom of expression is under constant yet unpredictable attack in the IRI. The legal provisions that criminalize certain types of speech are vague, and the charges brought against Iranian citizens based on these provisions are often politically motivated. The prosecutions of journalists, writers, artists and ordinary citizens violate international human rights law because these prosecutions fail to serve a purpose recognized as legitimate under international human rights instruments, or because the punishments carried out by the Iranian government are disproportionate to the alleged crime.


The Iranian government tightly controls speech through the MOCAIG, the security apparatus, and the judiciary. The MOCAIG reviews books before they could be published, grants and revokes newspaper and magazine permits, and oversees musical and theatre performances. The security apparatus and the judiciary also monitor the press and the cyberspace, and they arrest and prosecute individuals who write or post content deemed illegal or inappropriate


As the testimonies in this report show, the restrictions on freedom of expression are often enforced in an arbitrary fashion. Depending on the political climate of the country, the level of criticism against the government that is tolerated could vary. Therefore, it could be argued that more than three decades after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, Iranian citizens cannot fully know the limits of permissible speech or artistic expression.





IHRDC gathered and analyzed information for this report from the following sources:


Testimony of victims and witnesses. Former government officials, journalists and authors have been interviewed in preparation for this report.


Government documents. The latest version of the Islamic Penal Code, which became enforceable in 2013, the Press Law, and other laws and regulations have been cited to explain the legal framework within which the Iranian government restricts freedom of expression


Documents issued by non-governmental organizations. Reports by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and the Human Rights Acticvists News Agency were among sources that have been used in drafting this report.


Media reporting. Various Iranian media sources, as well as non-Iranian media sources, have been used to provide details and context for this report.


Where the report cites or relies on information provided by government actors or other involved parties, it specifies the source of such information and evaluates the information in light of the relative reliability of each source. The IHRDC has meticulously cross-checked all the sources of information used to compile this report to ensure their credibility and accuracy.


All names of places, organizations, etc. originally written in the Persian language have been transliterated using the system of the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (IJMES), available at http://ijmes.chass.ncsu.edu/docs/TransChart.pdf.



[1] Witness Testimony of Reza Haghighatnejad, (Aug. 2, 2015) (on file with IHRDC).

[2] Sulmāz ʾIykdar, Rūznāmihnigār, Bih Sih Sāl Ḥabsi Taʿzīrī Maḥkūm Shud, Radio Farda (Dec. 10, 2015), http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f4_solmaz_ekdar_convict_three_years_prison/27356432.html

[3] Id.

[4] Bāzdāshti Yik Rūznamihnigar Dar Mahābād, Human Rights Activists News Agency (Oct. 12, 2015), https://hra-news.org/fa/prisoners/a-2566

[5] Bāzdāshti Du Rūznāmihnigāri Dīgar; Sāmān Safārzāyī Va Āfarīni Chītsāz, Kaleme (Nov. 3, 2015),  http://kaleme.com/1394/08/12/klm-228801

[6] Nufūzi Farhangī Va Sīasī Khaṭarnāktar Az Nufūzi ʾIqtiṣādī Ast/ Dushman Bidunbāli Digargūn Kardani Bāvarhāyi Jāmiʾi Va Nufuz  Dar Marākizi Taṣmīmgīrī Va Taṣmīmsāzī Ast, Leader.ir (Sept. 16, 2015),http://www.leader.ir/langs/fa/index.php?p=contentShow&id=13606 .

[7] Article 24, Qanuni Assassi Jumhuri Islami Iran [The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran] 1358 [1980].

[8] According to one count, 757 individuals were executed in the 28 months following the Iranian Revolution on the charge of “sowing corruption on earth.” Ervand Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions 124 (1999).

[9] Law of 29 Aug. 1979 (On Purges and Creation of an Appropriate Environment for Growth of Revolutionary Institutions), available at http://rc.majlis.ir/fa/law/show/98209.  This law, which had a single article, stated: the government was permitted to appoint a five-person board comprised of eligible employees to prepare a list of individuals that needed to be terminated. Cooperation with SAVAK, the Pahlavi regime’s secret police, being demonstrably “unfit,” and being notorious for “deviance” could be grounds for being purged.


[10] Law of 19 Feb. 1980, (Amending the Purge Law of 29 Aug. 1979), available at http://rc.majlis.ir/fa/law/show/98617.

[11] Debates of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, June 25, 1981, pp. 7-8 , Library, Museum and Document Center of Iran Parliament , available at http://ical.ir/index.php?option=com_mashrooh&view=session&id=38&Itemid=38 (last visited Feb. 10, 2016).

[12] Debates of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, December 10, 1980, p.14 , Library, Museum and Document Center of Iran Parliament , available at http://ical.ir/index.php?option=com_mashrooh&view=session&id=80&Itemid=38 (last visited Feb. 10, 2016).

[13]Debates of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, December 10, 1980, p.15 , Library, Museum and Document Center of Iran Parliament , available at http://ical.ir/index.php?option=com_mashrooh&view=session&id=80&Itemid=38.

[14] Vizārati irshādi milli taʿtīl shud, Ettelaat, October 1, 1980.

[15]Bāzkhānīi Iiʾlāmi Taʾṭīlīi Vizārati Farhang Dar Rūzhāyi Ibtidāyīi Jangi Taḥmīlī : Vizārati Farhang Taʾṭīl Shud, Sharaf.ir (Oct. 1, 2014, 11:42 AM),  http://www.shafaf.ir/fa/news/281933.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20]Debates of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, Apr. 22, 1984, p.13 , Library, Museum and Document Center of Iran Parliament , available at http://www.ical.ir/index.php?option=com_mashrooh&view=session&id=603&page=10262&Itemid=38.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Law 27 Sept. 1981, (On Reconstruction of Human Resources of Ministries and Governmental Institutions), available at http://rc.majlis.ir/fa/law/show/90230?keyword=%D9%82%D8%A7%DA%86%D8%A7%D9%82%20%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AF%20%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%AF%D8%B1

[24] Id., article 18.

[25]Id., article 19.2.

[26] See Aḥkāmi Kāfar, Khamenei.ir, http://farsi.khamenei.ir/treatise-content?id=23#329 (last visited Feb. 11, 2016), also see Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Issues Edict against Baha’i Faith in Iran, Huffington Post (Oct. 1, 2013, 7:01 AM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/iran-bahai-fatwa_n_3687872.html.  

[27] Bahá'í International Community, The Bahá'í Question: Cultural Cleansing in Iran 35 (2008), available at http://news.bahai.org/documentlibrary/TheBahaiQuestion.pdf.

[28] Id.

[29]Muʿāvinati Umūri Maṭbūʿātīi Va ʾIṭṭilāʿrisānī, Farhang.gov.ir, http://www.farhang.gov.ir/fa/intro/adjutancy/press (last visited Feb. 11, 2016).  

[30] Witness Testimony of Isa Saharkhiz, (July 8, 2015) (on file with IHRDC).

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Id.

[45] Id.

[46]Fāʿizih Hāshimi Dar Rūznāmihyi Zan, Shafar.ir (Sept. 19, 2014),  http://www.shafaf.ir/fa/news/279419.

[47] Witness Testimony of Isa Saharkhiz, supra note 30.

[48] Id.

[49] The other charge, which related to Saharkhiz’s comments about allocation of advertisements by government agencies, was dropped soon.

[50] Witness Testimony of Isa Saharkhiz, supra note 30.

[51] Id.

[52] Id.

[53] Id.

[54]‘Muḥsinīi ʾIzhihʿī Saḥarkhīz Rā Gāz Girift’, BBC Persian (May 24, 2004, 12:10 AM),  http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/story/2004/05/040524_mf_fight.shtml.

[55] Witness Testimony of Isa Saharkhiz, supra note 30.

[56] Id.

[57] Id. See also Muḥsinīi ʾIzhihʿī Saḥarkhīz Rā Gāz Girift’, supra note 54.

[58] Witness Testimony of Isa Saharkhiz, supra note 30.

[59] Id.

[60] Witness Testimony of Ali Asghar Ramezanpour, (Aug. 8. 2015) (on file with IHRDC).

[61] Id.


[62] Id.


[63] The Press Law of 16 Aug. 1979, article 2 available at http://www.dastour.ir/Brows/?lid=99289.  According to this law a person obtaining a permit must have possessed the following qualifications: Being an Iranian citizen, not having a criminal record that results in being deprived of social rights, not being indigent or bankrupt through fraud, having a good moral and political character, and possessing at least a bachelor’s degree or being deemed qualified by a committee established in accordance with this law. 

[64] Witness Testimony of Ali Asghar Ramezanpour, supra note 60.

[65] Id.

[66] Masoud Behnoud, born in 1947, is a journalist and author with a long career in Iranian media. He currently resides in London and reviews Iranian media in a weekly BBC Persian television program.

[67] Sirous Alinejad worked at the Ayandegan newspaper before the Iranian Revolution. After the revolution he was the editor of Ayandeh and Adineh magazines.

[68] Witness Testimony of Ali Asghar Ramezanpour, supra note 60.

[69] Id.

[70] Vizārati Irshād Bih Risānihāyi Īrān Tuṣīih Kard Darbārihyi Muzakirāti Hastiʾī ‘Shibhiafkanī’ Nakunand, BBC Persian (25 July 2015), http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/2015/07/150725_ershad_letter_confidential_talks .

[71]ʾIdāmiyi  Janjāl Bar Sari “Dastūrulamali Hastiʾīi” Vizārati Irshād, Deutsche Welle Persian (July 31, 2015), http://www.dw.com/fa-ir/ ادامه-جنجال-بر-سر-دستورالعمل-هستهای-وزارت-ارشاد/a-18620960.

[72] Witness Testimony of Nikahang Kowsar, (Sept. 19, 2015) (on file with IHRDC).

[73] Id.

[74] Id.

[75] Id.

[76] Id.

[77] Id.

[78] Id.

[79] Id.

[80] Id.

[81] Id.

[82] Id.

[83] Id.

[84] Id.

[85] Id.

[86] Id.

[87] Id.

[88] Press Law of 13 Mar. 1986, available at http://www.moi.ir/Portal/File/ShowFile.aspx?ID=c501b2c9-a16e-48a9-beeb-aef53bf5805b.

[89] Witness Testimony of Nikahang Kowsar, supra note 72.

[90] Id.

[91] Id.

[92] Id.

[93] Id.

[94] Id.

[95] Id.

[96] Id.

[97] Id.

[98] Id.

[99] Id.

[100] Id.

[101] Id.

[102] Id.

[103] Id.

[104] Navvab Safavi was the founder of Fedaian-e Islam, an Islamist political movement that carried out a number of high-profile assassinations during the Pahlavi regime. Navvab Safavi and three other members of Fedaian-e Islam were executed by firing squad on January 18, 1956. See  Farhad Kazemi, Fedāʾīān-e Eslām, Iranica Online (Jan. 24, 2012), http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/fedaian-e-esla.  

[105] Witness Testimony of Nikahang Kowsar, supra note 72.

[106] Id.

[107] Id.

[108] Id.

[109] Id.

[110] Witness Testimony of Abbas Maroufi, (Aug. 3, 2015) (on file with IHRDC).

[111] Id.

[112] Id.

[113] Id.

[114] Id.

[115] Id.

[116] Id.

[117] Id.

[118] Id.

[119] Id.

[120] Id.

[121] Id.

[122] Id.

[123] Id.

[124] Id.

[125] Id.

[126] Id.

[127] Id.

[128] Id.

[129] Id.

[130] Witness Testimony of Reza Haghighatnejad, supra note 1.

[131] This report, which contained 32 volumes, was produced by the Ministry of Interior and the Center for Women’s Affaris during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. According to Ashraf Boroujerdi, a government official in the Khatami administration, this report was physically destroyed by the Ahmadinejad administration. See  Ṭarḥi Barrasīi Khushūnati Khānigi ʿAlayhi Zanān, Dar Zamāni Aḥmadīnizhād ‘Khamīr Shud’, BBC Persian (Nov. 30, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/2014/11/141130_nm_research_women_violence.  

[132] Witness Testimony of Reza Haghighatnejad, supra note 1.

[133] Id.

[134] Id.

[135] Id.

[136] Id.

[137] Id.

[138] Id.

[139] Id.

[140] Id.

[141] Id.

[142] Id.

[143] Id.

[144] Id.

[145] Id.

[146] Id.

[147] Witness Testimony of Isa Saharkhiz, supra note 30.

[148] Id.

[149] Id.

[150] Id.

[151] Id.

[152] Id.

[153] Id.

[154] Id.

[155] Id.

[156] ʿĪsā Saḥarkhīz Āzād Shud, Tabnak  (Oct. 3, 2013, 11:12 PM), http://www.tabnak.ir/fa/news/348892.

[157] Witness Testimony of Ali Asghar Ramezanpour, supra note 60.

[158] Id.

[159] Id.

[160] Id.

[161] Id.

[162] Āshnāyī Ba Rūznāmih Va Muʿassisiyi Hamshahrī, Hamshahri Online,  (Sept. 24, 2008, 05:17PM), http://www.hamshahrionline.ir/details/61443.  

[163] Witness Testimony of Ali Asghar Ramezanpour, supra  note 60.

[164] Id.

[165] Id.

[166] Id.

[167] Witness Testimony of Bijan Safsari, (July 30, 2015) (on file with IHRDC).

[168] Id.

[169] Id.

[170] Id.

[171] Id.

[172] Id.

[173] Id.

[174] Id.

[175] Id.

[176] Id.

[177] Id.

[178] Id.

[179] Id.

[180] Id.

[181] Id.

[182] Id.

[183] Id.

[184] Id.

[185] Id.

[186] Id.

[187] Id.

[188] Id.

[189] Id.

[190] Id.

[191] Id.

[192] Id.

[193] Id.

[194] Id.

[195] Id.

[196] Id.

[197] Id.

[198] Id.

[199] Witness Testimony of Abbas Maroufi, supra note 110.

[200] Id.

[201] Id.

[202] Id.

[203] Id.

[204] Reza Parchizadeh, Khīzishi Dānishjūʾīi Tīrmāhi 1378 Va “Sandrumi Dānishjuyīi” Khīzishhāyi Madanī Dar Īrāni Muʿāṣir, Akhbar-Rooz (July 8, 2013),  http://www.akhbar-rooz.com/article.jsp?essayId=53984.  

[205] Witness Testimony of Reza Parchizadeh (July 1, 2015) (on file with IHRDC).

[206] Id.

[207] Id.

[208] Id.

[209] Id.

[210] Witness Testimony of Popak Akhtari Rad, (June 14, 2015) (on file with IHRDC).

[211] Id.

[212] Id.

[213] Id.

[214] Id.

[215] Id.

[216] Id.

[217] Id.

[218] Id.

[219] Id.

[220] Witness Testimony of Isa Saharkhiz, supra note 30.

[221] Id.

[222] Id.

[223] Id.

[224] 8 Rouhollah Khomeini, Sahife-ye Imam 59-60 (The Inst. For Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works trans., 2008), available at http://statics.ml.imam-khomeini.ir/en/File/NewsAttachment/2014/1702-Sahifeh-ye%20Imam-Vol%208%20.pdf.

[225] 12 Rouhollah Khomeini, Sahife-ye Imam 180 (The Inst. For Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works trans., 2008), available at http://statics.ml.imam-khomeini.ir/en/File/NewsAttachment/2014/1706-Sahifeh-ye%20Imam-Vol%2012(1).pdf.

[226] 12 Hizār Dānishjū, Nimītavānand Tābiʿi Iḥsāsāti 250 Nafar Bāshand, Ettelaat, Apr. 19, 1980, at 3.

[227] Id.

[228] Raʾīs Va Du Muʿāvini Dānishgāhi Tabrīz ʿIstiʿfā Kardand, Ettelaat, Apr. 20, 1980, at 1.

[229] Dasturi Shūrāyi ʾInqilāb: Danishgāhhā Bāyad Ta 15 Khurdād Bāz Bāshand, Ettelaat, Apr. 19, 1980, at 1.  

[230] Id. Tarbiat-e Moallem University was renamed Kharazmi University in 2012. For further information regarding this university’s history see Pīshīniyi Dānishgāh, Khu.az.ir , http://khu.ac.ir/ تاریخچه-دانشگاه.

[231] Dasturi Shūrāyi ʾInqilāb: Danishgāhhā Bāyad Ta 15 Khurdād Bāz Bāshand, supra note 229.

[232] Dasturi Shūrāyi ʾInqilāb: Danishgāhhā Bāyad Ta 15 Khurdād Bāz Bāshand, supra note 229 at 1-2.

[233] Dasturi Shūrāyi ʾInqilāb: Danishgāhhā Bāyad Ta 15 Khurdād Bāz Bāshand, supra note 229 at 2.

[234] Id.

[235] Guzārishi Laḥẓih Bi Laḥẓih Az Barkhurdhāyi Dānishgāh, Ettelaat, Apr. 22, 1980, at 2.

[236] Taqāżāyi Tashkīli Shūrāyi ʾInqilābi Farhangī Az ʾImām, Ettelaat, Apr. 22, 1980, at 3.

[237] Dargīrīi Khūnīn Dar Dānishgāhi Jundīshāpūr, Ettelaat, Apr. 23, 1980, at 3.

[238] Asāmīi Kushtih Shudigān Va Majrūhāni Dānishgāhi Jundīshāpūr, Ettelaat, Apr. 23, 1980, at 2.

[239] Dar Dargīrī Va Tīrandazīi Rūzi Panjshanbihyi Ahvāz 4 Tan Kushtih Va 20 Nafar Majrūh Shudand, Ettelaat, Apr. 24, 1980, at 2.

[240] Dar Jaryāni Dargīrīi Khūnīni Rasht 5 Nafar Kushtih Va 431 Nafar Majrūḥ Shudand, Ettelaat, Apr. 23, 1980, at 3.

[241] Dargīrī va Zadukhurd Dar Dānishgāhi Zāhidan, Ettelaat, Apr. 23, 1980,  at 11.

[242] Istiʿfāyi Dastijamʿīi Mudīrīati Muvaqqati Dānishgāhi Tihrān, Ettelaat, Apr. 26, 1980, at 2.

[243] Id.

[244] ʾInqilābi Farhangī 33 Salih Shud, Fararu  (Apr. 22, 2013, 05:38 PM), http://fararu.com/fa/news/147326.

[245] Tashkīli Shūrāyi ʿAlīi ʾInqilābi Farhangī, Islamic Revolution Document Center, http://www.irdc.ir/fa/calendar/68/default.aspx (last visited Feb. 16, 2016).

[246] Duktur ʿAbdulkarīmi Surūsh Dar Barnamiyi Bi ʿIbārati Dīgar (Bakhshi ʾAvval), Youtube (Dec. 24, 2009) ,   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvuKqVu9OdI.  

[247] Id.

[248] Id.

[249] Tashkīli Shūrāyi ʿAlīi ʾInqilābi Farhangī, supra note 245.

[250] Witness Testimony of Mahmoud Sabahy, (July 2, 2015) (on file with IHRDC).

[251] Id.

[252] Id.

[253] The Battle of Karbala was waged on October 10, 680 between Hossein, the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, alongside a small number of his followers on one side, and an army sent by Yazid, the second Umayyad Caliph, on the other. For more on this battle, see Battle of Karbalāʾ, Encyclopædia Britannica (Oct. 23, 2015), http://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Karbala.


[254] Witness Testimony of Mahmoud Sabahy, supra note 250.

[255] Id.

[256] Id.

[257] Id.

[258] Id.

[259] Id.

[260] Id.

[261] Id.

[262] Id.

[263] Id.

[264] Id.

[265] Duktur Muḥammadi Sharīf, Ustādi ʾIkhrājīi Dānishgāhi ʾAllāmih Ṭabaṭabayī: Nāmihyi ʾIkhrāji Man Rā Dānishjūyi Mardūdīam ʾImżā Kardih Ast, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (Apr. 7, 2011), http://persian.iranhumanrights.org/1390/01/mohammad_sharif_expell

[266] Id.

[267] ʿIltizām Bih Vilāyati Faqīh Sharṭi Būrsi Dānishjūyān/Ṣudūri Mujavvizi Dānishgāhi Takjinsīatī, Mehr News Agency  (Feb. 2, 2010, 11:35 AM), http://www.mehrnews.com/news/1028382.

[268] Muḥammadi Sharīf, Ustādi  ʾIkhrājīi Dānishgāh: Bih Darkhāstam Barāyi Bāzgasht Bih Dānishgāh Pāsukhī Dādih Nashudih Ast, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (Oct. 10, 2013),  http://persian.iranhumanrights.org/1392/07/sharif .

[269] Hamīd Parnīān, Chirā Murtiżā Mardīhā Az Dānishgāh ʾIkhrāj Shud?,  Radio Zamaneh (Apr. 18, 2010), http://zamaaneh.com/idea/2010/04/post_683.html .

[270] ʿIltizām Bih Vilāyati Faqīh Sharṭi Būrsi Dānishjūyān/Ṣudūri Mujavvizi Dānishgāhi Takjinsīatī, supra note 267.

[271] Ātinā Farqadānī Faʾʾāli Ḥuquqi Kūdak Bāzdāsht Shudih Ast, Human Rights Activists News Agency (Sept. 12, 2014), https://hra-news.org/fa/thought-and-expression/b-65

[272] Ātinā Farqadānī Bih 12 Sāl Va 9 Māh Ḥabs Maḥkūm Shud, Deutsche Welle Persian (June 2, 2015), http://www.dw.com/fa-ir/ آتنا-فرقدانی-به-۱۲-سال-و-۹-ماه-حبس-محکوم-شد/a-18492330.

[273] Ātinā Farqadānī, Barandihyi Jāyizihyi Shujāʿati Shabakihyi Biynulmilalīi Mudāfiʿi Huqūqi Kārīkāturīsthā Shud, BBC Persian (Aug. 13, 2015),   http://www.bbc.com/persian/learningenglish/2015/08/150813_nm_farghadani_atena_cartoon_jail.  

[274] Ātinā Farqadānī Āzād Shud, Human Rights Activists News Agency (Nov. 6, 2014), https://hra-news.org/fa/prisoners/b-221.  

[275] [275] Ātinā Farqadānī, Youtube, (Dec. 29, 2014),  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ybx0HE7ykt8.

[276] Ātinā Farqadānī Bih 12 Sāl Va 9 Māh Ḥabs Maḥkūm Shud, supra note 272. 

[277] Id.

[278] Id.

[279] Id.

[280] ʿIrjāʿi Parvandihyi Ātina Farqadānī Bih Dādgāhi Tajdidi Naẓar; Bīmārī Va Dar Intiẓāri ʾIrjaʿ Bih Pizishki Mutikhaṣṣiṣ, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (Aug. 3, 2015),   http://persian.iranhumanrights.org/1394/05/atena-faraghdani-3.  

[281] Mihdī Mūsavī Va Fāṭimih ʾIkhtiṣārī Bih Zindāni Ṭūlānīmuddat Va Shallāq Maḥkūm Shudand, Radio Farda  (Oct. 12, 2015), http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f9-iranian-poets-mehdi-mousavi-fatemeh-ekhtesari-sentenced-jail-lash/27302538.html

[282] Id.

[283] Id.

[284] Id.

[285] Fihristi Maṣādīqi Muḥtavāyi Mujrimānih, Internet.ir, http://internet.ir/crime_index.html (last visited Feb. 16, 2016).

[286] Pas Az Ḥazfi Taṣāvīri Khātamī, “Jamārān” Rafʿi Fīltir Shud, Deutsche Welle Persian (Feb. 28, 2015),  http://www.dw.com/fa-ir/ پس-از-حذف-تصاویر-خاتمی-جماران-رفع-فیلتر-شد/a-18286581.

[287] Risānihhā Ḥaqqi ʾIntishāri Taṣvīr Yā Maṭlabī Az Muḥammadi Khātamī Nadārand, Radio Farda (Feb. 16, 2015),  http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f4_ejei_ban_khatami_text_picture/26852598.html.

[288] Pas Az Ḥazfi Taṣāvīri Khātamī, “Jamārān” Rafʿi Fīltir Shud, supra note 286. 

[289] ʾIntikhāb Fīltir Shud, Asr Iran (Oct. 2, 2014, 08:05 AM), http://www.asriran.com/fa/news/358404.

[290] Rafʿi Fīltiri »ʾIntikhāb« Baʿd Pas Az 90 Rūz/Mudīri »ʾIntikhāb« : Baʿżī Dūstāni Dulatī Ba Bīmaʿrifatī, Kārshikanīhāyi ʿAjībī Kardand/»Buzurgān« Luṭf Dāshtand/Hamchinān Dar Masīri »ʾĪʿtidāl« Qadam Bar Khāhīm Dāsht, Entekhab (Jan. 1, 2015),   http://www.entekhab.ir/fa/news/183150.

[291] Dalāyili Fīltirīngi Vāts Āp ʾIʿlām Shud, Fararu (May 30, 2014, 02:26 PM), http://fararu.com/fa/news/188396

[292] Id.

[293] Muʿarrifīi Pulīsi Fatā (Fażāyi Tulīd Va Tabāduli ʾIṭṭilāʿāt) Nīrūyi ʾIntiẓāmī, Cyberpolice.ir,  http://www.cyberpolice.ir/about (last visited Feb. 16, 2016).  

[294] Matni Kāmili Guzārishi Majlis Darbāriyi Margi Sattāri Bihishti/Fatā Khalāfi Dastūri Qażāʾī ʿAmal Kard, Mehr News Agency (Jan. 6, 2013, 09:17 AM),  http://www.mehrnews.com/news/1784226.

[295] Id.

[296] Id.

[297] Id.

[298] Qātili Sattāri Bihishti Bih Sih Sāl Zindān Maḥkūm Shud, BBC Persian (Aug. 7, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/2014/08/140807_nm_sattar_beheshti_court.  

[299] Id.

[300] Id.

[301] Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Forced Confessions: Targeting Iran’s Cyber Journalists (2009), available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/3159-forced-confessions-targeting-iran-s-cyber-journalists.html.  

[302] ʾIzʿāni Quvviyi Qażāʾīyi Bih Takhalluf Dar Parvandihyi Viblāgnivisān, BBC Persian (Apr. 20, 2005, 05:25 PM),  http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/story/2005/04/050420_mf_blogger.shtml

[303] Farjāmi Parvandihyi Viblāgnivisān, ʾIqbāl, News.gooya.com  (Apr. 21, 2005), http://news.gooya.com/politics/archives/027324.php. Also see Dādgāhi Tajdīdi Naẓari Parvandihyi Viblāgnivisān Barguzār Mīshavad, Radio Koocheh (Oct. 27, 2010), http://radiokoocheh.info/article/66477.

[304] Farjāmi Parvandihyi Viblāgnivisān, ʾIqbāl, supra note 303.

[305] ʾIzʿāni Quvviyi Qażāʾīyi Bih Takhalluf Dar Parvandihyi Viblāgnivisān, supra note 302.

[306] Arash Sigarchi, Zindān Barāyi Shahrām, Rūzbih Va Dīgarān, Sigarchi.net (Feb. 5, 2009),  http://sigarchi.net/blog/?p=2086.  

[307] Dādgāhi Tajdīdi Naẓari Parvandihyi Viblāgnivisān Barguzār Mīshavad, Radio Koocheh (Oct. 27, 2010), http://radiokoocheh.info/article/66477.

[308] Id.

[309] Article 254 of the IPC defines qazf  as a false accusation of adultery or sodomy against someone else.

[310] Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Apostasy in the Islamic Republic of Iran 27 (2014), available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/1000000512-apostasy-in-the-Islamic-Republic-of-Iran.html#3.1.4.

[311] Id.

[312] Ḥukmi ʾIʿdāmi Suhiyli ʿArabī »Naqż Shud« , Radio Farda (June 28, 2015),   http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f12-soheil-arabi-death-sentence-canceled/27098656.html.

[313] Id.

[314] Id.

[315] Naqżi Ḥukmi Suhiyli ʿArabī Dar Dīvāni ʿAlīi Kishvar, Kaleme (June 28, 2015), http://www.kaleme.com/1394/04/07/klm-218018

[316] 90 Māh Zindān Va Taḥqīqāti Dīnshināsī Bih Jāyi ʾIʿdām, Jame jam Online (Sept. 27, 2015, 08:48 AM), http://www.jamejamonline.ir/newspreview/2109441307650708756.  

[317] Id.

[318] English Translation of Books I & II of the New  Islamic Penal Code, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (Apr. 8, 2014), http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/iranian-codes/1000000455-english-translation-of-books-1-and-2-of-the-new-islamic-penal-code.html.  

[319] Islamic Penal Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran – Book Five, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (July 8, 2013),  http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/iranian-codes/1000000351-islamic-penal-code-of-the-islamic-republic-of-iran-book-five.html.  

[320] Vakīli Ghunchih Qavāmī: ʾIttihāmi Muvakkilam Faʿālīati Tablīghī ʿAlayhi Niẓām Ast, BBC Persian (Nov. 16, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/2014/11/141116_nm_ghavami_lawyer.

[321] Ghunchih Qavāmī Āzād Shud, BBC Persian (Nov. 23, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/2014/11/141123_l51_ghoncheh_ghavami_released.

[322] Muḥākimiyi Tavakkulī Bih ʿIttihāmi Tablīgh ʿAlayhi Niẓām, Entekhab (May 17, 2015, 08:55 AM),  http://www.entekhab.ir/fa/news/204671.

[323] Ḥukmi Dādgāhi Aḥmadi Tavakkulī Ṣadir Shud, Mehr News Agency (June 6, 2015, 05:06 PM), http://www.mehrnews.com/news/2769176.

[324] Id.

[325] Tahmīnih Mīlānī Bi ʾIttihāmi »Tablīgh ʿAlayhi Niẓām« Bih Dādsarā ʾIḥżār Shud. Radio Zamaneh (Jan. 13, 2015), http://www.radiozamaneh.com/199122.

[326] Id.

[327] Bāzdāshti ʾIsmāʿīli ʿAbdī, Dabīri Kulli Kānūni Ṣinfīi Muʿallimāni ʾĪrān, Kaleme (June 27, 2015),  http://www.kaleme.com/1394/04/06/klm-218009

[328] Bāzdāshti ʾIsmāʿīli ʿAbdī, Dabīri Kulli Kānūni Ṣinfīi Muʿallimāni ʾĪrān, Kaleme (June 27, 2015),  http://www.kaleme.com/1394/04/06/klm-218009Also see Sivvumīn Tajammuʾi ʾIʿtirāżīi Muʿallimān Dar Sarāsari ʾĪrān, Deutsche Welle Persian (May 7, 2015), http://www.dw.com/fa-ir/ سومین-تجمع-اعتراضی-معلمان-در-سراسر-ایران/a-18437554.

[329] Bāzdāshti ʾIsmāʿīli ʿAbdī, Dabīri Kulli Kānūni Ṣinfīi Muʿallimāni ʾĪrān, supra note 328.

[330] Id.

[331] Farīburzi Raʾīs Dānā Az Zindāni ʾIvīn Āzād Shud, Radio Farda (Apr. 15, 2013),  http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f5-fariborz-raiis-dana-freed-from-prison-in-iran/24958257.html.

[332] Zindān Va Shallāq Bih Khāṭiri Tuhīn Bih Aḥmadīnizhād, Rooz Online (May 1, 2013), http://www.roozonline.com/persian/news/newsitem/article/-28d8aa4d8d.html.

[333] Id.

[334]  Kampiyni Yādāvarīi ʾImām Naqī Bih Shīʿayān, Facebook,  https://www.facebook.com/Emam.Naghi?fref=ts (last visited Feb. 17, 2016).

[335] Suhiyli Bābādī Bih Haft Sāl Ḥabs Maḥkūm Shud, Human Rights Activists News Agency (Sept. 4, 2015),  https://hra-news.org/fa/prisoners/a-2095.

[336] Dastgīrīi 8 Nafar Bih Jurmi Tuhīn Bih Muqaddasāti Dīnī Dar Fażāyi Majāzī, Fars News Agency (Nov. 25, 2013), http://www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=13920904001044

[337] Id.

[338] Chahār Nafar Bih ʾIttihāmi »Tuhīn Bih Muqaddasāt« Dar Vāybir Bāzdāsht Shudand, Radio Farda (Dec. 19, 2014), http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f16-iran-viber-arrested/26699420.html.

[339] Id.

[340] In the original Persian, the term used for Supreme Leader can be translated as “His Highness, the Leader.” In the Iranian media this phrase is solely used to refer to the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

[341] Khashmi ʾUmmat Az Tuhīni Majjalihyi Fārād Bih Ḥażrati ʾImām, Hawzeh.net http://www.hawzah.net/fa/magazine/view/130/6463/73742 (last visited Feb. 17, 2016).

[342] Id.

[343] Farnūsh ʾAmīrshāhī, Janjālhāyi Kārīkāturī, BBC Persian (Sept. 30, 2012, 07:29 PM), http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/2012/09/120930_l42_ir_caricature.shtml.  

[344] Id.

[345] Id.

[346] Id.

[347] Ḥayāti Nu Bastih Shud, BBC Persian (Jan. 12, 2003, 03:23 PM), http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/030111_mf-hayat.shtml

[348] Brian Murphy, Irate Iranians Take to Streets Over Reprinted FDR Cartoon, Star News Online (Jan. 13, 2003, 01:32 PM), http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20030113/news/201130364.  

[349] Farnūsh ʾAmīrshāhī, supra note 343.

[350] Id.

[351] ʿAlīriżā ʾIshrāqī Bā Sipurdani Vasīqih Āzād ShudI, Hamshahri Online (Mar. 11, 2003), http://www.hamshahrionline.ir/HAMNEWS/1381/811220/news/ejtem.htm#s11000.

[352] Id.

[353] Dastgīrīi Tuhīnkunandigān Bih ʾImām (Rh) Dar Fārs, Iranian Students’ News Agency (Sept. 21, 2014, 04:55 PM), http://www.isna.ir/fa/news/93063018035.

[354] Id.

[355] Id.

[356] ʾIʿtirāfi Tilivīzyunīi 11 Nafar Dar ʾĪrān Bih ʾIttihāmi ʾIntishāri Jukhāyī Darbārihyi Āyatullāh Khumiynī Dar Vāybir Va Vātzāp, Youtube (Oct. 13, 2014),  https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=2&v=Z2YvO8UHXCU.  

[357] Id.

[358] NāmihʾĪst Sargushādih Bih Jinābih Ḥujjatulislām Āqāyi Khāminihʾī Az Bandihyi Khuda Qāsimi Shuʿlih Saʿdī, Sholesadi.com, http://www.sholehsadi.com/letter1.php (last visited Feb. 17, 2016).

[359] Id.

[360] Muʿāvini Dādsitān, Māniʿi Āzādīi Shuʿlih  Saʿdī Ast, Rooz Online (Apr. 18, 2012),   http://www.roozonline.com/persian/news/newsitem/article/-8ce6157272.html.

[361] Id.

[362] Qāsimi Shuʿlih Saʿdī:Bā ʾIntishāri Manshūri Ḥuqūqi Shahrvandī Sāzmānhāyi Zīri Naẓari Dulat Sakhtgīrīi Kamtarī Khāhand Kard, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran  (Dec. 26,  2013), http://persian.iranhumanrights.org/1392/10/sholeh-sadi_-moanshour.

[363] Nuh Sāl Zindān Barāyi Tuhīn Bih Rahbarī, Saham News (June 28, 2015), http://sahamnews.org/2015/06/285738.

[364] Id.

[365] Mihdi Farāḥī Shāndīz,Zzindānīi Sīāsī, Haftihhā Dar ʿInfirādīi Ivīn Nigahdārī Shudih Ast, Kaleme (Mar. 29, 2013), http://www.kaleme.com/1392/01/09/klm-138268.  

[366] Sih Sāl Ḥabsi Dīgar Barāyi ʾAbulfażli Qadyānī, Kaleme (Dec. 28, 2011), http://www.kaleme.com/1390/10/07/klm-84771.  

[367] ʾIḥżāri Dubārihyi ʾAbulfażli Qadyānī Bā ʾIttihāmāti Jadīd; Tuhīn Bih Rahbarī Va Tablīgh ‘Alayhi Niẓām,  Kaleme (Mar. 7, 2011),  http://www.kaleme.com/1389/12/16/klm-50799.

[368] Id.

[369] Pas Az Shish Māh Bāzdāsht, Ātinā Dāʾimī Bih Chahār ʾIttihām Dar Dādgāh Maḥkūm Shud, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (Mar. 16, 2015), http://persian.iranhumanrights.org/1393/12/atenah-daemi-3.

[370] Ātinā Dāʾimī Bih Taḥammuli 14 Sāl Zindān Maḥkūm Shudih Ast, BBC Persian (June 1, 2015),  http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/2015/06/150601_l39_atena_daemi_verdict.  

[371] Shahin Najafi is a Germany-based Iranian rapper whose music and lyrics contain sharply-worded political and social criticism. In 2012 Najafi was declared to be an apostate  by Iranian clerics after he released a song making controversial references to the tenth Shia’ Imam. Apostasy is punishable by death under Iranian law. See Iranian Rapper Faces Death Threats and Fatwa for ‘Blasphemous’ Song, Guardian (May 14, 2012, 01:43 PM), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/14/iranian-rapper-death-threat-fatwa.

[372] Pas Az Shish Māh Bāzdāsht, Ātinā Dāʾimī Bih Chahār ʾIttihām Dar Dādgāh Maḥkūm Shud, supra note 369.

[373] Zindānī Shudani Yik Shahrvandi Rubāṭ Karīmī Bih ʾIttihāmi Tuhīn Bih Rahbarī, Human Rights Activists News Agency (Mar. 11, 2015),  https://hra-news.org/fa/thought-and-expression/b-578.

[374] Id.

[375] Bāzdāshti Yik Javāni Afghān Bih ʾIttihāmi Tuḥīn Bih Rahbarī, Human Rights Activists News Agency (July 23, 2015), https://hra-news.org/fa/thought-and-expression/a-1628.

[376] Id.

[377] Shīrīni ʿIbādī: »ʾIjrāyi Ḥukmi Shallaq ʿAlayhi Yik Faʿāli Madanī Nishānihyi Żaʿfi Ḥukūmat Ast«, Deutsche Welle Persian (Sept..15, 2011), http://www.dw.com/fa-ir/ شیرین-عبادی-اجرای-حکم-شلاق-علیه-یک-فعال-مدنی-نشانه-ضعف-حکومت-است/a-1538952.

[378] Id.

[379] »Dānishjūyi Mumtāzi Dānishgāhi Tihrān« Bih ʾIttihāmi Tuhīn Bih Aḥmadīnizhād Shallāq Khurd, Radio Farda (Oct. 17, 2011),   http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f12_third_student_lashed_for_insulting_ahmadinejad/24362361.html.  

[380] Id.

[381] Piymāni Ārif Pīsh Az Āzādī Az Zindāni ʾIvīn 74 Żarbih Shallāq Khurd, Radio Farda (Oct. 9, 2011), http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f4_peyman_aref_lash_evin_prison/24353940.html.  

[382] Id.

[383] Piymān Ārif, Āqāyi ʾAḥmadīnizhād Mīdānīd Bā Dānishgāh Chih Kardīd?!, Balatarin, https://www.balatarin.com/permlink/2009/5/29/1601974 (last visited Feb. 18, 2016).

[384] Id.

[385] Vākunishi Maḥmūdi Aḥmadīnizhād Bih ʾIjrāyi »Ḥukmi Shallāqi« Piymāni Ārif, Radio Farda (Oct. 12, 2011, 04:27 PM), http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f4_ahmadinejad_reaction_peyman_aref_lash/24356339.html.

[386] Id.

[387] Maḥkūmīati Salīmīi Namīn Bih Zindān Bā Shikāyati Aḥmadīnizhād Va Jāsbī, Alef (Jan. 31, 2015),   http://alef.ir/vdcb9wb5zrhbsfp.uiur.html?258397.

[388] Maḥkūmīati ʿAbbāsi Salīmīi Namīn Bih 6 Māh Ḥabs Va 74 Żarbih Shallāq, Radio Farda (Jan. 31, 1393),  http://www.radiofarda.com/content/f12-abbas-salimi-nami-sentenced/26823441.html.

[389] Id.

[390] Dastgīrīi Dah Kārmand Dar Ardabīl Bih ʾIttihāmi ‘Nashri Akāzīb Dar Viblāg’, BBC Persian (Sept.  1, 2012, 04:51 PM), http://www.bbc.com/persian/rolling_news/2012/09/120901_l45_rln_ardebil_eployee_arrest.shtml

[391] Dādsitāni Andīmishk:ʿAvāmili Nashri ʾAkāzīb Dar Fażāyi Majāzī Dar ʾAndīmishk Dastgīr Shudand, IRNA (May 4, 2015, 12:48 PM), http://www.irna.ir/fa/News/81594665/.

[392] Takzībi Khabari Kushtih Shudani Chand ʿAndīmishkī, Alef (May 1, 2015, 05:40 PM),   http://alef.ir/vdccxoqip2bqe18.ala2.html?269305.  

[393] Id.

[394] Press Law of 18 Apr. 2000, available at  http://press.farhang.gov.ir/fa/rules/laws2.

[395] Press Law of 18 Apr. 2000, article 9, available at  http://press.farhang.gov.ir/fa/rules/laws2.

[396] Id.

[397] Id.

[398] Id.

[399] Press Law of 18 Apr. 2000, article 10, available at  http://press.farhang.gov.ir/fa/rules/laws2

[400] Qanuni Assassi Jumhuri Islami Iran [The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran] 1358 [1980], Article 168 available at  http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/english/human-rights-documents/iranian-codes/3017-the-constitution-of-the-islamic-republic-of-iran.html?p=21.

[401] While Article 35 of the Press Law states that Revolutionary Courts may hear press cases, Article 302 of the Code of Criminal Procedure explicitly states that press-related cases are to be heard at public criminal courts.

[402] According to the Press Law the jury is to be selected biennially in the following manner: In Tehran, the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance invites, or takes part in the committee along with, the head of the Ministry of Justice provincial office, the head of the city council, the head of the Islamic Development Office, and a representative of the National Friday Prayer Leaders’ Policy Council. The above-mentioned persons are to select 21 persons from various groups in the society. The groups that the Press Law mentions for this purpose are the clergy, university professors, physicians, engineers, writers, journalists, attorneys, teachers, trade associations, civil servants, laborers, farmers, artists, and members of the Basij. In provincial capitals, the head of the MOCAIG provincial office invites, or takes part along with, the head of the Ministry of Justice provincial office, the head of the city council of the provincial capital, the head of the provincial Islamic Development Office, and the Friday Prayer Leader of the province or his representative. The above-mentioned individuals are to select 14 persons to serve as jurors in cases brought against the press in the provinces. Jurors serve for two-year terms. See Press Law of 18 Apr. 2000, article 36, available at http://press.farhang.gov.ir/fa/rules/laws2.

[403] Press Law of 18 Apr. 2000, article 37, available at http://press.farhang.gov.ir/fa/rules/laws2.

[404] Press Law of 18 Apr. 2000, article 38, available at http://press.farhang.gov.ir/fa/rules/laws2.

[405] Press Law of 18 Apr. 2000, article 35, available at http://press.farhang.gov.ir/fa/rules/laws2.

[406] Press Law of 18 Apr. 2000, article 11, available at http://press.farhang.gov.ir/fa/rules/laws2.

[407]  Security Measures Law of 2 May 1960, article 1, available at http://www.dastour.ir/brows/?lid=50705.

[408] Id.

[409] Mihrangīzi Kār, Difaʿīiʾī Barāyi Saʿīdi Murtażavī, IranWire (Nov. 17, 2014), available at http://iranwire.com/legal-blogs/9743/30.

[410] Security Measures Law of 2 May 1960, article 13, available at http://www.dastour.ir/brows/?lid=50705.

[411] Id.

[412] Mihrangīzi Kār, supra note 409.

[413]UN Human Rts. Comm., Gen. Comment. No.22, ¶ 2, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1 at 35 (1994), available at https://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/gencomm/hrcom22.htm.

[414] UN Human Rts. Comm., Gen. Comment No. 34, ¶9,  available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/gc34.pdf.

[415] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Art. 19.3, Dec. 16, 1966, S. Exec. Rep. 102-23, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, available at http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx.

[416] European Convention on Human Rights, art. 10, Nov. 4, 1950, E.T.S. 5, available at http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf.

[417] Dink v. Turkey, 2010-II Eur. Ct. H.R. 7124/‌09, available at http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng-press?i=003-3262169-3640194.

[418] Id.

[419]Otto-Preminger-Institut v. Austria, 295-A Eur. Ct. H.R. (ser. A) (1994), available at http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-57897. The court described the movie as follows:


 The play on which the film is based was written by Oskar Panizza and published in 1894. In 1895 Panizza was found guilty by the Munich Assize Court (Schwurgericht) of "crimes against religion" and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The play was banned in Germany although it continued in print elsewhere…The film, directed by Werner Schroeter, was released in 1981. It begins and ends with scenes purporting to be taken from the trial of Panizza in 1895. In between, it shows a performance of the play by the Teatro Belli in Rome. The film portrays the God of the Jewish religion, the Christian religion and the Islamic religion as an apparently senile old man prostrating himself before the Devil with whom he exchanges a deep kiss and calling the Devil his friend. He is also portrayed as swearing by the Devil. Other scenes show the Virgin Mary permitting an obscene story to be read to her and the manifestation of a degree of erotic tension between the Virgin Mary and the Devil. The adult Jesus Christ is portrayed as a low grade mental defective and in one scene is shown lasciviously attempting to fondle and kiss his mother’s breasts, which she is shown as permitting. God, the Virgin Mary and Christ are shown in the film applauding the Devil.

[420] Id.

[421] Id.

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