Arash Hejazi on Censorship in Iran

Arash Hejazi writes:

My name is Arash Hejazi. I am an Iranian doctor, novelist and founder and editorial director of the Tehran-based Caravan Books Publishing House. Sadly, I’m now better known for my association with the brutal murder of Neda Agha Soltan — as the doctor who tried to save her life and then went out into the world to tell her story. Neda’s death was a brutal and horrible experience for me.

Before this terrible incident I was known primarily to others for my literary work, publishing writers ranging from Paulo Coelho (which I translated from the Portuguese myself) to Nobel Laureate J.M.G. Le Clezio. I was known as a free speech advocate and fought against censorship. I say ‘I was’ known for these things because I cannot return to Iran and am now being prosecuted in my own country for telling the truth. The Iranian intelligence services are looking for me and I cannot return.

Coming from a nation proud to have produced one of the most ancient books in history (the Avesta), and coming from a religious background where God swears “by the pen and whatever they record” (Surah 68 [The Pen] in the Quran), it is hard to believe the Iranian government to be one of the few states left in the modern world that officially censors books. However, recent events in Iran have shown the world the very scope of censorship of the press and the media. We have faced the same censorship in the book industry for years.

A resolution issued in 1988 presented a list of subjects that “do not deserve to be published” in Iran, as they were believed to “be misused for propagating intellectual carelessness and disturbing the rights of the public” and that the “healthy and constructive” atmosphere of book printing and publishing should be “guarded” and “secured” by observing these limitations.

Promoting profanity, renouncing the fundamentals of religion, propagating moral corruption, inciting the public to rise up against the IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) and oppose it, promoting the ideas of “destructive” and “illegal” groups, and “mocking” and “weakening” national pride and patriotic spirit are among these banned topics.

It is extremely hard to decipher the meaning of these limitations, especially when it comes to terms such as moral corruption, uprising, profanity, etc, for which no one can give a concrete definition. Thus, publishers and authors are always at the mercy of the censors.

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