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Iran: Women's Magazine Felled By Latest Government Closure

The last issue of "Zanan" ahead of its late-January shutdown (official site) Iranian authorities' decision to shut down an influential women's magazine for "damaging society" and painting a gloomy picture of life in Iran has sparked criticism at home and in the West.

The closure is notable in that the monthly, "Zanan," is widely regarded as a moderate magazine that cautiously avoids politics and focuses exclusively on women's issues.

That strategy had allowed it to survive the political pressure and crackdowns that had led many other publications in Iran to be shuttered by authorities.

Iran's Commission for Press Authorization and Surveillance revoked "Zanan's" license on January 28, saying the magazine offers "a somber picture of the Islamic republic" that "compromises its readers' mental health" by "publishing morally questionable information."

"Zanan," which means "women" in Persian, was founded 16 years ago by Shahla Sherkat, a Tehran-based journalist and editor who wanted to explore issues in her magazine that affect Iranian women.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced the move as a "crusade against news media that stray from the official line."

Reza Moeni, who is in charge of the Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan desk at RSF, tells Radio Farda that "Zanan" was merely depicting what happens in Iranian society. He said the closing of the magazine shows that "people's right to know is seen by Iranian authorities as a security threat."

Dozens of publications and independent journalists have been accused of acting against national security in the more than two years since hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad came to power.

"During the past two years, we have seen more than 50 cases -- which [Iranian authorities] themselves call 'cases against the press' -- and all these cases are related to national security," Moeni says.

Other Targets

The "Zanan" closure was followed by a court summons for female journalist Jila Bani Yaghoub on January 23. The daily "Sarmayeh" reporter is being prosecuted for reporting from a women's demonstration in March 2007, when she was arrested and held for three days. Bani Yaghoub was also charged with "activity against national security."

Female Internet journalists Maryam Hosseinkhah and Jelveh Javaheri were sent in November-December to Tehran's Evin prison on similar charges. They were released weeks later when their relatives posted considerable bail.

Badrulsadat Mofidi, a Tehran-based journalist and the secretary of the Iranian Journalists Association, tells RFE/RL that although the government commission has increased its attacks on the media, "apparently, there is no organization in Iran which can listen to journalists and protect them from these attacks."

"In the past two months, we have seen many publications being suspended," Mofidi says. "The newly established 'Ariya' newspaper was suspended even before it managed to publish its first issue."

According to RSF, the Commission for Press Authorization and Surveillance has suspended 42 publications and canceled 24 media licenses in the past two years. Several other newspapers have been temporarily closed by the courts.

The "Arzesh," "Bilmaj," and "Madrasah" publications are among those that have been suspended since October.

The Iranian Journalists Association says the Commission for Press Authorization does not have the legal right to suspend "Zanan," and that only a court can order such a halt.

"Zanan" could opt for legal action to challenge the governmental body over the magazine's closure, but Iranian journalists say that would lead to a lengthy, expensive, and likely futile process.

(Radio Farda contributed to this report.)

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.