Iranian literati swell demands for reform

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The Independent Online
In their most significant protest at restrictions on liberty in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 130 leading Iranian scholars, novelists, poets, journalists, artists and researchers have called on the clerical authorities to respect freedom of expression and human rights.

The declaration is to be published in this Thursday's issue of Keyhan, a London-based Iranian weekly newspaper.

The signatories criticise 'frustrating obstacles, humiliating attitudes and inadmissible plans' imposed by the clerical authorities on the publication of works by most Iranian scholars and writers who do not respect orthodox Islamic codes.

Analysts in Iran and abroad called the declaration a 'tremendous challenge' to the ruling mullahs, as it comes only days after the latest open letter written by the dissident General Azizollah Amir Rahimi, in which he called for the creation of a government of national salvation.

The signatories include some of Iran's most popular and acclaimed poets, novelists, artists and film directors.

Among them are the poets Ahmad Shamlou, Simin Behbahani and Manouchehr Ateshi, the novelist Dariush Ashouri, the writers Mahmoud Dolatabadi and Shahrnoush Parsipour, the scholars Simin Daneshvar and Changiz Sahlavan, the translator Mohammad Ghazi, and Houshang Golshiri, a writer whose last work has not received permission to be distributed, despite the fact that it has been ready since 1991.

Early this year the authorities arrested Saidi Sirjani, a leading writer and historian, on charges of using and distributing drugs, engaging in un- Islamic behaviour (homosexuality) and drinking alcohol. After months of isolation, Mr Sirjani ended up by publishing a mea culpa accepting all the charges and promising to 'correct himself'.

In letters to the authorities, including President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was one of his admirers, Mr Sirjani had protested that several of his books were 'rotting' in depots while the editors were 'ruined under heavy debts'. He asked for his case to be examined by the courts.

Like Mr Sirjani, some of the signatories to the declaration face great difficulty in obtaining permission to publish their works, which the authorities consider unfit for an Islamic society. Their declaration calls for the abolition of censorship and freedom of expression and thought and warns the authorities against ill-treatment of the intelligentsia.

''Governments and organisations and their attached groups consider the works of the artists according to their own views, policies or opportunities.

Certain of them go so far as to insult writers and artists in their publications. Others want us to act, think and write according to their standards. This is inadmissible. Any writer, thinker, artist, poet, etc, is responsible to his own work,' the signatories write.