One hundred years of legal confusion
The Iranian state’s first commitment to press freedom, within rather narrow bounds, came in the Constitution adopted on 30 December 1906, Article 13 of which said newspapers ‘are free and authorized to publish useful material of common benefit such as the Majlis debates and the public’s comments on them’, as long as the content would not ‘disrupt any of the principles of the state or of the nation’, adding that publishers of ‘tendentious material opposed to the above or committing accusation and libel’ would be ‘legally interrogated, prosecuted and punished’.1 The Amendment to the Constitution, adopted on 8 October 1907, contained three references to the press, all rooted in the Belgian Constitution. The Amendment’s Article 20 said ‘all publications, except misleading books and material harmful’ to Islam would be ‘free and their censorship banned, but should anything opposed to the Press Law be seen in them, the publisher or writer will be punished in accordance with the Press Law. When the author is known and resident in Iran, neither the publisher, nor the printer, nor the distributor can be prosecuted.’ The last sentence was a verbatim translation from the Belgian Constitution,2 with the name of the country changed to ‘Iran’. According to the Amendment’s Article 77, there had to be a ‘unanimous vote’ for ‘political and press wrongdoings to be tried in secret’.3 Article 79 of the Amendment, calling for the jury to be ‘present at the courts, with regard to political and press wrongdoings’, had been adopted from the Belgian Constitution’s Article 98,4 omitting the reference to ‘all criminal matters’, which under the Belgian law also had to be heard by a jury.