Last week, the Iranian capital’s Ebtekar newspaper reported that the head of the Iranian Prisons Organization had been dismissed from his position.” On Saturday, Tehran’s public prosecutor’s office responded by banning future publication of the newspaper, which was declared guilty of “spreading rumors and lies, or [distorting] others’ contents,” according to Mohammad Ali Vakili, Ebtekar’s managing director.
Vakili has told reporters that judiciary authorities specifically cited the Prison Organization story as the inciting incident for this decision. However, Iranian authorities have evidently given no explanation as to why this story was serious enough to justify shuttering the paper altogether.
Gholam Hossein Ismaili, the chief of Iranian prisons, was indeed removed from his position last week. However, the regime has officially described Ismaili as having been promoted. However, critics of the regime believe that this announcement was political cover for the real cause of Ismaili’s removal, which was rooted in a violent raid on Iranian political prisoners that took place on April 17.
Following the raid, which hospitalized four prisoners, injured numerous others, and ended with 32 activists and political dissenters in solitary confinement, protests were rapidly organized outside of the Majlis and near President Rouhani’s offices. Supporters of those protests believe that they were effective enough to necessitate a response from the leaders in Tehran. Thus, Ismaili was removed from his post, but without acknowledgment that this constituted conceding to the protesters.
Regardless of the accuracy of this interpretation of events, it is clear that the regime is intimidated by the rumors. The story of Ismaili’s removal has been read as an implication of political weakness, and the regime has responded by using its considerable powers of censorship to rebuke the source of that story.
The head of Iran's Judiciary accompanied the Ebtekar ban with an order that prosecutors “stand up against any spreading of lies and disruption of national security, so that everyone knows that Iran’s Islamic regime is not passive in the face of saboteurs and their supporters.”
Assuming that the “saboteur” in this case is the now-banned Ebtekar, the Judiciary’s statement refers to a state-run newspaper that has histrocially supported the regime’s positions. It is unlikely, therefore, that the severe response to the Ismaili story is the result of outstanding conflicts with the regime. It is suggestive of the extent of Iran’s repression of the free press, and it indicates just how sensitive that regime can be to information that calls its official narratives into question.