Fact Check: Is it illegal to publish an interview with former President Mohammad Khatami?
In early December 2015, Ettelaat newspaper published an interview with and photo of former President Mohammad Khatami – and was subsequently reprimanded by the Judiciary for that decision. In a reaction to the interview’s publication, Ahmad Salek Kashani, Isfahan MP and chair of Majlis’ Cultural Commission, said that “the Judiciary’s decision to reprimand the daily was taken based on a legal responsibility, as there is no doubt that publishing an interview with an individual who is banned from leaving the country and about whom the media are banned from publishing and showing photos is against the law.”
Reactions from Parliamentarians
10 Majlis MPs have called on the Judiciary to pay special attention to the enforcement of bans imposed on Mohammad Khatami that prohibit him from appearing in and conducting interviews with broadcast and print media, in addition to preventing him from leaving the country.
Javad Karimi Ghoddoosi, Mashad MP, justifies his support for the bans and claims to have “personally reminded the Justice Minister to implement the order of the Supreme National Security Council.” Mr. Ghoddoosi argued that the ban “is a legal document approved by a government body that the president chairs. A number of media and anti-regime press have treated this reminder as if MPs designed the ban on Khatami, which prevents him from leaving the country, from being interviewed, as well as from appearing in the broadcast media, but this decision is a legal article approved by the Supreme National Security Council and its implementation is mandatory.”
Khatami’s Recent History
From 1997 until 2005, Mohammad Khatami was President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the fallout from the 2009 presidential election and Mr. Khatami’s support for the opposing presidential candidates – especially Mir Hussein Mousavi and the so-called green party, Khatami was branded as one of the “leaders of sedition” and was even accused of “communicating with foreigners.” Khatami’s resilience and persistence in his positions caused attacks from opposing factions to continue and, ultimately, in 2010, as the pressures on the president of the so-called reform era escalated, there were reports that Khatami was banned from travel outside Iran. Although President Khatami’s lawyer rejected the idea that he was banned from leaving the country, the fundamentalist and conservative media immediately published stories corroborating his travel ban. There were also reports in the conservative media during the summer of 2014 that press have been banned from publishing about Khatami, and a number of MPs close to the ‘Paydari Front’ in Majlis went as far as calling on Justice Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi to fully enforce the ban: a series of restrictions that saying that Khatami shall not be shown in print and that broadcast media and will be prohibited from conducting any interviews.
The Fallout from Ettelaat’s Decision to Publish Khatami Interview
Despite the fact that judicial authorities have repeatedly stressed that Mohammad Khatami should be banned from appearing in the media, Ettelaat newspaper published Lebanon’s Al-Safir interview with President Khatami. The piece was published under the headline “We Should Talk,” along with a photo. Once the piece was published, the head of the Media and Culture Court released an indictment against Mahmoud Doaie, Editor-in-Chief of Ettelaat newspaper, and called for his trial in the special court for clergies.
In reaction to news of the order for his appearance in the special court for clergies, Doaie said, “I have also heard that the special court for the media has sent a letter. I have not received any letter yet. I am of course familiar with our friends in the special court for clergies and I am close to them.”
In a December 9, 2015 note in Ettelaat, Doaie said that the decision of the Tehran prosecutor to impose a media ban on Mohammad Khatami is a violation of the Constitution. He argued that “there is no law or decree which is approved in any legislative institution in this regard, and the Supreme National Security Council has explicitly stated that it has no legal recommendation on this specific issue. Some time ago, the Tehran prosecutor had also requested that no photo or content related to Mohammad Khatami be published and I told him that ‘this is your personal decision taken based on your personal will and there is no law or legal basis to support this issue.’ Ettelaat will not accept this decision and we will take the path of common sense and will understandably publish content related to Mr. Khatami while we try to remain moderate and sober and avoid controversy.”
Is there a ban?: Judicial & Institutional Considerations
In July 2014, in response to questions regarding the Supreme National Security Council’s alleged ban on his leaving the country, conducting interviews, and appearing in the broadcast media, President Khatami stated that “there is no such thing and it would be better for MPs to explain their position in this regard.”
In a press conference in February 2014, Mohseni Ejeie, the judiciary spokesman, announced that “the judiciary has the right to order the press and the media and to instruct them not to publish any content about the individuals whom the Supreme National Security Council and the judiciary consider leaders of sedition. As far as I am aware, the order is still in force and the violators face consequences and will be punished.”
A few days after the judiciary spokesman’s remarks, President Hassan Rouhani – the Chair of the Supreme National Security Council – posted a photo of himself with Mohammad Khatami on his Instagram feed. In a blurb of text accompanying the photo, Rouhani expressed his condolences for the passing of Khatami’s sister.
Moreover, the government’s spokesman, Mohammad Baqer Noakht, later rejected claims that “there is a legal document in the Supreme National Security Council imposing a ban on Mohammad Khatami from conducting interviews and appearing in the broadcast media.” Nobakht stated that he is “a member of Supreme National Security Council and I am not aware of any order about the head of the reform government.”
Nevertheless, in response to a question about a ban on Mohammad Khatami’s photo in the broadcast media, judiciary spokesman Mohseni Ejeie said in September 2015 that “the order to restrict Seyed Mohammad Khatami is limited to the news and photos.”
Is there a ban?: Constitutional and Penal Law
In a letter addressed to President Hassan Rouhani, Mahmoud Doaie pointed to violations of ten different articles of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution, and specifically quoted the Constitution’s Article 23, which states that “inquisition is prohibited and no individual shall be reprimanded or criticized simply for holding a belief.” Similarly, according to Article 24 of the Constitution, “the press and publications enjoy freedom of expression, unless they violate the principles of Islam or public rights.” Furthermore, Doaie reminded the President, according to Article 37 of Iran’s Constitution, a person’s “innocence is to be presumed, and no one is to be held guilty of a charge unless his or her guilt has been established by a competent court.”
Moreover, article 570 of the Islamic Penal Code states that “any effort made by any official or authority affiliated with government bodies and state institutions to violate the personal liberty of the people against the law, or to deprive citizens of the rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, will be dismissed from the service and will face a five-year expulsion from government jobs, and in addition will be sentenced to imprisonment anywhere from two months to three years.”
There are strong constitutional and statutory reasons to believe that such a ban on Khatami would be illegal. Additionally, the government’s spokesman has denied that there is any such directive from the Supreme National Security Council on the issue. The spokesperson has also asserted that banning Khatami from appearing in any televised program and participating in any interview without a court proceeding would be illegal. We rate as “false” Isfahan MP Salek Kashani’s assertion that Ettelaat’s publication of an interview with Khatami was illegal.