(Reuters) – A prominent pro-reform daily reappeared on Iranian newsstands on Sunday after a three-year ban that reformists saw as an attempt by hardline rulers to silence critics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Sharq was closed by the Press Supervisory Board, run by the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, in 2007 for publishing an interview with a “counter-revolutionary” poet abroad.
“The Sharq newspaper hit the stands again on Sunday … it will mainly pay attention to cultural and social issues,” the semi-official ILNA news agency quoted the daily’s editor-in-chief Ahmad Gholami as saying.
Critics say the closure of pro-reform newspapers is part of a gradual squeeze on political opponents and a clampdown on cultural activities the authorities see as encouraging “corrupt” Western values. The government rejects the accusations and says it does not censor the media.
At least four pro-reform publications have been banned since the re-election of President Ahmadinejad in June last year after a disputed vote and dozens of moderate journalists are still in jail. Authorities deny allegations of vote rigging.
The disputed election plunged Iran into its worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Thousands of people protesting against the conduct of the vote were arrested. Most have been released, though more than 80 received jail sentences of up to 15 years and two people tried after the election were executed.
Since 2000, the Press Supervisory Board and Iranian courts have closed some 100 publications, condemning many as “pawns of the West” and accusing them of trying to undermine Iran’s system of clerical rule.
However, many have reopened under different names. A handful of opposition newspapers still publish.
Sharq, which means “East” in Farsi, used to publish views of Ahmadinejad’s economic and foreign policies.
The paper also faced other charges, including advertising for opposition organizations, showing disrespect for Islam and religious leaders and disrespect for Ahmadinejad in a cartoon.
Reformists and some conservatives criticize Ahmadinejad over his failure to rein in double-digit inflation. Reformists also accuse him of isolating Iran with his hardline stance and rhetoric in the country’s dispute with the West over its nuclear program.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)