Iran sees enemies everywhere

As more people look for windows of opportunity to criticize the regime, it in turn has been cracking down on even the slightest hint of challenge to its authority.

By SAHAR SEPEHRI
March 1, 2010 21:45
2 minute read.
Ahmadinejad speaks in Teheran.

ahmadinejad 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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An Iranian newspaper with a record of needling the regime has been forced to change its masthead because authorities claimed that the stylized Persian calligraphy appeared to depict a naked ballerina.

The order, along with others affecting the media, appears to reflect a heightened sensitivity on the part of the government to the slightest hint of a challenge since the disputed re-election in June of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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The action against the Teheran Today newspaper was ordered by Mohammad Ali Ramin, the associate minister of culture and Islamic guidance and one of Ahmadinejad’s close advisers. Ramin issued a statement telling the newspaper to change its logo and accusing it of being part of a “soft war” against the regime.

At first, Rasoul Babayi, the paper’s editor, thought the order was a joke.

But when he saw posters advertising the newspaper masthead being torn down, “I realized the situation was getting beyond a joke.”

It’s not the first time the newspaper has been in trouble.

In June 2009, the Teheran public prosecutor banned it for ”publishing articles and images insulting President Ahmadinejad” after it printed a 16-page supplement criticizing the administration’s economic, cultural and political policies.



MEANWHILE, THE regime is becoming increasingly sensitive to color as well.

Ever since the color green has come to represent the opposition movement, the authorities have attempted to eliminate the color wherever it appears.

In January 2010, one of the most popular Iranian TV sports programs, Barnameye Navad, was temporarily taken off the air after numerous callers voted for the program’s graphics to adopt a green bar. When the program returned to the air, the green bar was gone.

When a viewer of another popular TV show, Iran Shahr, called to congratulate the program’s anchor for wearing a green shirt and joining the opposition, the caller was cut off. The program no longer accepts live calls.

There are even indications that the country’s flag is not immune to color correction. On three separate occasions during appearances by the president, the green in the country’s tri-color flag appeared to mysteriously morph to blue.

The change was noticed by Hossein Sobhani-Nia, deputy chairman of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, who complained that “a national flag is a symbol of unity and must not be influenced by those with wrong ideas.”

In response, Ahmadinejad’s office insisted the color change was merely an optical illusion.

A sociology professor at Teheran University, who asked that his name not be used out of concern for his security, says such government actions show officials “are very much afraid of the green movement and a Western conspiracy.”


And they may have good reason for concern, this professor believes, as more and more people are looking for even the slightest window of opportunity to criticize the government.


The writer is a journalist in Washington who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

– The Institute for War & Peace Reporting/MCT

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