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Iran/Iraq: Survey Says Press Censorship Severe

Washington, 25 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- An American human rights organization that monitors press freedom says the media in Iran came under harsh attack in 1998, while press freedoms were completely non-existent in Iraq.

In its annual report entitled "Attacks on the Press," the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that 1998 was a "year of dramatic developments" in Iran for the media.

According to the survey, several newspapers were suspended or permanently closed, while journalists were arrested and prosecuted for reporting on a variety of sensitive political topics. The CPJ said that after President Muhammad Khatemi took office in August 1997, Iran's press benefited for a short time from his agenda of social and political reforms. But almost as quickly, says the report, journalists found themselves the targets of "relentless attacks" from hard-line supporters of Iran's spiritual guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Committee was scheduled to present its report today. The organization is a private, non-profit group dedicated to promoting freedom of the press worldwide and protecting journalists.

According to its report on Iran, the CPJ said: "To most observers, the clampdown against the more vocal press was part of the power struggle being waged between supporters of Khatemi's reformist program and Khamenei loyalists. For much of the year, Khamenei exerted his control over the judiciary to harass or close outspoken newspapers for their reporting on such subjects as criticism of the Islamic Republic and its philosophical foundations."

The survey noted that by the end of 1998, nine newspapers were either permanently closed or suspended for long periods. And journalists, including some from the official Islamic Republic News Agency -- were arrested or indicted for publications offenses for their reporting on controversial subjects.

The survey observed that despite mounting government pressure, journalists remained defiant toward official attempts to limit their freedom and enjoyed support from students, who in December demonstrated in Tehran against the state's repressive measures against the press.

The survey concluded: "The disappearances and suspicious deaths of several writers and free expression advocates in the last months of the year sent a chilling message to independent-minded writers and journalists alike."

In Iraq, the survey said that press freedoms remain simply "nonexistent," and that the media in Iraq functions only as "outlets for propaganda" extolling President Saddam Hussein's virtues.

The survey noted that Hussein's son Uday exerts considerable influence over the media as head of the Iraqi Journalists Union and owner of the newspaper Babil.

The survey also said that information remains a precious commodity for most Iraqis since the government has banned satellite dishes and foreign publications are forbidden from entering the country. Commercial Internet access is also unavailable in Iraq.

According to the survey, radio offers the main source of alternative information for the population, although it is noted that the government has tried to jam foreign radio broadcasts in the past.