Several of Iran's leading publishing houses have been accused of attempting to overthrow the Islamic establishment, suggesting that the government might be expanding the reach of its effort to counter the "soft war" it alleges is being waged against the Islamic republic.
The accusations came in a list drawn up by the Soft Security Strategic Think Tank, a group that is reportedly run by the Basij force of Khajeh Nasir University. The opposition website Rahe Sabz says the group is close to security circles.
The language used in the report is similar to those of hard-line Iranian officials and government members who often speak of a "soft war" against the Islamic republic. The group says the 64-page paper documenting "evidence of soft overthrow and velvet revolution " on the part of publishers should serve as a wake-up call for those who believe the "soft war" targets only the political arena.
Nashr-e Ney, a well- respected publishing house, was accused of being at the front line of "publishers opposed to the Islamic establishment." Nashr-e Ney publishes books on wide range of issues including sociology, philosophy, economics, politics, and religion, including the "New Testament."
The publication of the Persian translation of "The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership," by former U.S. national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is cited as an example of the publishing house's alleged efforts to destabilize the Iranian regime.
Other publishers singled out are Nashr Cheshmeh, Atayi, Kavir, and Ghoghnous, which publish novels, short stories, and also philosophical works and books dealing with the social sciences.
Roshangaran, which publishes books dealing with women's issues, also made the list, courtesy of its publication of works on "civil society and civil struggle" written by U.S. academic Gene Sharp, an expert on nonviolent warfare, and retired U.S. Army Colonel Robert Helvey. *
Soft Security Strategic Think Tank says the writers' "antisecurity" work was made available at book fairs and bookshops and led to the promotion of methods of soft revolution.
Some of Iran's top writers and literary figures, including poet Simin Behbahani, Mahmud Dolatabadi, Javad Mojabi, cleric Mohsen Kadivar, and exiled satirist Ebrahim Nabavi were also listed in connection with their working relationships with the accused publishers.
Well-known Iranian-Canadian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo, who's also been named by the group, says the Iranian regime is trying to smear the publishers.
"They're trying somehow to create a conspiracy theory which I don't think has been there, because most of these publishers have not been necessarily publishing only dissident authors," Jahanbegloo says, "but they've been also publishing other forms of books and eventually religious books."
Jahanbegloo, who was jailed in Iran in 2006 on security charges, says the pressure on publishers may be tied to the regime's recent actions against the teaching of social sciences. The Iranian authorities, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have said the study of social sciences leads to people's uncertainty over their religious beliefs.
"Books are used mainly by students and educated Iranians, at this level at least," Jahanbegloo says. "So eventually if there is some kind of a policy to change the human sciences at the level of universities, I think the second level or parallel level would be to censor books which are read by those students in social sciences and philosophy sections."
Publishers have been warning about growing state pressure and censorship since Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. In recent years there have been increased reports of publishers being summoned by the Intelligence Ministry for questioning, and of publishers being required to gain approval from the Culture Ministry for books they want to publish.
One of the publishers on the list, who was reached by phone in Tehran by RFE/RL, said there'd been renewed pressure since the 2009 unrest that followed the disputed reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
"We are already facing many difficulties and obstacles in our work," the publisher said on condition of anonymity. "With or without this list, it doesn't mean that we will give up, though."
Prague-based journalist and translator Omid Nikfarjam says there had been rumors among publishers that a blacklist was being compiled by the Culture Ministry.
He believes the list issued recently could be that rumored feared list, because of the timing of its release and the names it contains. "It seems that what the publishers and writers heard was true," Nikfarjam says. "Some of these publishers, including Ney, Ghoghnous, and Cheshmeh, have about 60 to 70 books waiting to get a license to be published at the Culture Ministry."
'Not So Powerful'
Exiled satirist Nabavi, who is also on the list, jokes that he'd been demoted from being a "mohareb" (waging war against God) to being involved in a plot to overthrow the Iranian regime.
But on a more serious note, he denies the accusations against him, saying he "and others like him" want to reform Iran, not overthrow Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. Nabavi says that should the regime fall, "most of the responsibility" falls on the leaders for radicalizing the situation through their policies. "We neither have the power to [overthrow the regime], nor do we intend to do so."
Nabavi says he doesn't expect the new accusations to make the already difficult situation of the publishing houses even more difficult.
Meanwhile, he says his books are still being sold in Iran, where he was jailed because of his writings. "Whenever I need one of my books, I ask anyone who is traveling to Iran to bring me a copy," he says.
* CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correctly identify Robert Helvey as a former U.S. Army colonel.