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Iran: Magazines Shut Down Over 'Immoral' Coverage Of Hollywood Celebs

Entertainment magazines on the shelves in Tehran this week (AFP) Iranian authorities have closed down nine, mostly lifestyle, magazines this week for publishing photos of "immoral" Western celebrities and reporting about their private lives.

Thirteen other publications were warned to avoid printing similar photos and stories -- or face losing their publishing licenses.

The Culture Ministry announced the closures, accusing them of publishing stories about "immoral and corrupt" Hollywood stars and for promoting "superstitions."

"Sobh-e Zendegi," "Havar," "Donya'e Tasvir," "Baznegari," "Talash," "Haft," "Neda’e Iran" and "Be Sooye Eftekhar" were among the magazines whose publishing licenses were revoked by the ministry.

"Sobh-e Zendegi" had recently published photos of actresses Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, and Naomi Watts with short reports about their lives.

The foreign movie stars were pictured without head covering but all were wearing long sleeves and loose clothes -- the practice tolerated in some Iranian state media.

Most of the magazines generally shy away from politics, and mostly focus on lifestyle, celebrities, cinema, and family issues. The only exception is "Havar," a magazine published in Kurdistan Province, which covers political and social issues.

Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, spokesman for Iran's Association for Press Freedom, tells RFE/RL that although the publications do not cover politics, their closures were politically motivated.

"The government of [President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad interferes with everything; it doesn’t have to be only politics," Shamsolvaezin says. "The authorities want literary and cultural publications to follow the government's line. These publication were closed down because they did not follow the Ministry of Culture's policies."

On its website, the ministry says it banned the magazines for using photos of artists "as instruments [to arouse people's desire], publishing details of their decadent private lives, propagating medicines without authorization, promoting superstitions."

The ministry's Press Supervisory Board, a body controlled by hard-line conservatives, did not elaborate about the magazines' alleged practice of promoting superstitions. The publications often run advertisements for vitamins and remedies, including pills to treat impotence.

Chilling Effect

The magazines, including "Haft" and "Talash," have been popular among Iranian youth. Some news agencies have argued that their ban will not have a significant effect on young people because similar information about celebrities, cinema, and culture is available elsewhere, including on the Internet.

However, Shamsolvaezin says the magazines' closures will have an impact on Iranian journalists, driving them to self-censorship to keep their jobs and prevent similar bans on their publications.

"As a result, hundreds of journalists lose their jobs, they are forced to change their profession or go abroad. Journalists working for other publications [will] practice self-censorship," Shamsolvaezin says. "These are direct impacts. It also has an indirect impact on public opinion. People want to have their favorite publications but the government deprives the public of their right to have such publications."

More than 50 pro-reform publications have been closed down and dozens of journalists and editors have been jailed in Iran on vague charges since 2005.

Most recently, "Zanan," a monthly publication that has covered women's issues for the past 16 years, had its license revoked. "Madrasseh," "Sharqh," and "Karnameh" are among many other publications that have been shut down by the authorities.

Many Iranian journalists have come under pressure for working for independent and pro-reform publications.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF,) a Paris-based group that advocates media rights, dozens of Iranian journalists have been imprisoned "just for doing their jobs."

Reza Moeni, who is in charge of affairs in Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan for RSF, tells RFE/RL that two female Internet journalists -- Jelveh Javaheri and Maryam Khosseinkhah -- were recently arrested in connection with their professional activities. Both were subsequently released after paying heavy bails, but many other journalists are still serving their sentences.

"We call Iran the 'biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East' in recent years because it has the biggest number of imprisoned journalists," Moeni says. "Last year, more than 50 journalists were detained, arrested, and sentenced. The sentences range from three months in prison to the death penalty."

Iranian journalists Hassan Falahizadeh and Kaveh Javanmard have been serving prison terms for the past two years, while Mohammad Siddigh Kabud-Band has been detained without charges.

The spokesman for Iran's Association for Press Freedom says it is unlikely that the nine magazines would be able to reinstate their licenses to publish. The association also questions the Press Supervisory Board's right to shut down the magazines, arguing that it "does not have the legal authority to make such decisions."

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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.