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Writers, Artists In Iran Issue Call For Freedom Of Speech, Warning Of 'Social Collapse'

The poster of a banned Iranian film being pulled down in Tehran. October 2019. All books, films and music must be approved by censors.
The poster of a banned Iranian film being pulled down in Tehran. October 2019. All books, films and music must be approved by censors.

Referring to continued suppression of freedom of expression in the Islamic Republic, more than 300 Iranian writers, artists, academics, civil society activists, and journalists have warned that blocking all sorts of criticism and questioning the regime's performance will lead to a "social collapse".

Given the inefficiency and corruption of the political system in Iran, a total social collapse would be inevitable, the statement says, adding, "blocking any sort of criticism, and disregarding the right to question under the pretext of maintaining "national security" is inadmissible.

Noureddine Zarrin Kelk (veteran artist and animator), Ali Babachahi (poet), Alireza Rajaei (pro-reformists ideologist), Kamran Shirdel (acclaimed film director), and Alireza Abiz (poet) are among the signatories of the June 22 statement titled as "Warning on Censorship."

The Islamic Republic Judiciary, along with the intelligence services of the county, have frequently condemned many journalists, artists, writers, and other critics, accusing them of acting against national security.

The signatories to the statement have noted that "for more than a hundred years, the Iranian people have made great strides toward achieving civil liberties and, above all, toward freedom of expression.

"People of Iran have bravely suffered and sacrificed themselves to achieve that goal," the signatories to the statement have asserted, reiterating, "Freedom of expression and criticism are everyone's right."

Insisting that "censorship and besieging activists" in Iran "paves the way for corruption," the statement says, "surrendering to censorship makes corruption and anomalies dominant and pervasive."

The signatories have also stressed, "the notion that any criticism of the state structures is against national security has no scientific basis. Such interpretation is an epitome of censorship, and against freedom of expression."

Charges of "acting against national security" are vaguely set down in Articles 498 to 512 of the Islamic Penal Code

According to Article 498, "Anyone, with any ideology, who establishes or directs a group, society, or branch, inside or outside the country, with any name or title, that constitutes more than two individuals and aims to disturb the security of the country…shall be sentenced to two to ten years’ imprisonment." This does not include armed opposition whose fate can be sealed by execution.

However, political and civil activists in Iran have repeatedly stressed that Islamic Republic's interrogators and intelligence agencies force judges to issue verdicts compatible with their wishes.

Although the statement has not singled out any specific case, in recent months, several members of Iran's Writers Association have been imprisoned. Three journalists, including Khosrow Sadeqi Boroujeni, Kayvan Samimi, and Shahram Safari, have been sentenced to long terms in prison.

The arrests have expanded to the extent that even Adel Assakereh (a teacher in the remote city of Darkhovin), Ebrahim Shooriani (a social media activist in the city of Baneh) and Mohammad Reza Hayati (TV presenter) have also been summoned to courts.