After a two-day suspension last week of his hardline conservative newspaper Kayhan, Managing Editor Hossein Shariatmadari said the ban was politically motivated.
In an interview with Fars, a news agency run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Shariatmadari, himself an IRGC member and appointed to his editorial post by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, dismissed the suspension of the daily newspaper as unlawful.
Earlier, the government’s official news agency, IRNA, had reported that Tehran’s prosecutor-general’s office had said Kayhan’s headlines were against Iranian policy on security and regional matters and, as a punishment, it would be banned from publishing for two days.
In a controversial banner headline on November 6, Kayhan had applauded “Ansar-Allah’s Missile Fired at Riyadh; the Next Target, Dubai.”
The headline referred to a missile fired on November 4 by Houthi rebels in Yemen, targeting Riyadh’s airport. However, the missile was intercepted and brought down by Saudi Arabia’s missile shield.
Reacting to the headline, Ala’uddin Zohourian, secretary to the press supervisory board affiliated with the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, said the headline was against national security and that the daily had been given notice.
Nevertheless, Kayhan stood firm on November 7, saying it was in Iran's national interests to defend the Yemeni people rather than "Dubai’s skyscrapers."
Now after the suspension ended, Shariatmadari has once again defended his daily’s approach, maintaining the real reason behind the suspension was not the controversial headline but rather the newspaper’s revelations about mismanagement by Rouhani’s government.
“The government lacks sufficient capability and expertise to recognize national interests,” Fars cited Shariatmadari as saying. “The government has indeed harmed the country in many ways during the past four years.”
Elaborating further, Shariatmadari presented a long list of damages he says Rouhani’s administration has incurred on Iran and Iranians during his presidency. Referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, as a disaster, he also listed cooperation with the Financial Action Task Force, FATF, and the UNESCO 2030 document as “devastating” results of the incumbent’s performance.
Shariatmadari said it was also devastating when, in the middle of heated arguments and negotiations over Iran’s nuclear case, the government declared that Iran’s national treasury had run out of funds. “It was also damaging that [Rouhani’s government] created the illusion that the U.S. was capable of demolishing Iran’s military facilities by dropping only a single nuclear bomb,” he said.
Accusing the government of mismanagement of the economy, Shariatmadari noted, “The government’s destructive policies led to many factories and manufacturing units shutting down. The officials were paid astronomical sums of cash as salary and bonuses.”
Shariatmadari also cited Rouhani’s government repeatedly targeting the IRGC missile program as further evidence that Iran’s current executive organ is incapable of discerning national interests.
Kayhan (meaning Cosmos in Persian) was established in 1943 while Iran was occupied by allied forces during World War II. It went on to become one of the region’s most popular dailies. In the months leading up to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, its circulation reached 1 million.
Though there are no dependable statistics in Iran, it is believed Kayhan’s circulation has dropped over the past decades and is currently estimated to be 30,000 to 35,000 copies a day. However, many believe most of Kayhan’s readers are either state-run entities forced to subscribe or people interested in reading obituaries.
Shariatmadari carries the title of ayatollah Khamenei’s representative and is known to be close to the Supreme Leader.
Many have gone further, saying that what appears in Kayhan is a reflection of Khamenei’s opinions, and that it was Kayhan that laid the groundwork for Khamenei to order an annulment of UNESCO 2030, a document for developing education all over the world.
Kayhan, under Shariatmadari, has long been described as the main mouthpiece for Khamenei and his hard-liner and ultraconservative allies, who wield the real power in Iran, even when they lose elections.
So far, Kayhan has enjoyed a hidden privilege that allows it to target Khamenei’s critics with total impunity.
Neither Khamenei nor Rouhani and his ministers have reacted yet to Kayhan’s recent headline or Shariatmadari’s latest comments on the government’s “disastrous” performance.
Shariatmadari has managed the Kayhan publishing house, which includes the daily newspaper, since 1993.