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Shamsolvaezin, Mashallah

Shamsolvaezin, Mashallah

Mashallah Shamsolvaezin is an Iranian journalist, freedom of press activist, and a former editor-in-chief of several banned reformist newspapers. He also was the editor of the influential monthly journal Kiyan and is part of a circle of intellectuals including and centered on the work of Iranian philosopher abdolkarim soroush. Shamsolvaezin's bold activities in pursuit of promoting a free and lively press gained him recognition as an important reformist figure and resulted in his imprisonment in Iran for more than a year.

PERSONAL HISTORY

During the early years of his career in post-Revolution Iran, Shamsolvaezin was a reporter for the conservative Kayhan daily newspaper. His work then focused on articles concerning Middle East issues. In the early 1990s before he gained prominence as the persecuted editor-in-chief of several popular dailies, Shamsolvaezin served as the editor of Kiyan, an influential monthly journal on philosophy, literature, and religion.

In the wake of the surprise presidential victory of reformist MOHAMMAD KHATAMI in 1997, Iran witnessed a proliferation of dynamic daily newspapers and journals. Shamsolvaezin edited several of the most popular and influential of these papers, including Jame'eh, Tus, Neshat, and Asr-e Azadegan. As conservative factions of the government mobilized the judiciary and its forces toward curtailing the expanding pro-reformist public sphere, both Shamsolvaezin and the publications he edited came under fire.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Mashallah Shamsolvaezin

Birth: Iran

Family: Wife, Fariba Abbas-Qolizade

Nationality: Iranian

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1980s: Reporter for Kayhan daily newspaper, Middle East Affairs Editor, Kayhan daily newspaper
  • 1991–98: Editor-in-chief of Kiyan journal of philosophy, religion, and literature
  • 1998–99: Editor-in-chief of consecutively banned Jam'eh, Tus, Neshat, and Asr-e Azadegan Dailies
  • 2000–2001: Imprisoned as part of a crackdown on reformist journalists
  • 2001: Press activist, journalist, political analyst

During the period immediately following the election of Khatami, Shamsolvaezin was the editor-in-chief of Jame'eh newspaper. The publication advertised itself as the paper of civil society and played an important role in promoting examinations of topics relating to civil society and liberties. Under the direction of conservatives, the paper had its license suspended in June of 1998, about a year after publishing its first issue. Within a month of being shut down, however, the paper reopened with the same staff under a new name, Tus. In August, the judiciary ordered the suspension of Tus on the grounds that it had "printed lies" and "disturbed the public order." In response to these charges, Ansar-e Hezbollah, a militant group considered a vigilante organization and linked to officially sanctioned militias, physically attacked Shamsolvaezin. Tus permanently closed in September 1998 after Shamsolvaezin irked authorities by publishing an article critical of the government's harsh stance toward the Taliban. After the closure of Tus, the process of obtaining new publication licenses continued with the paper Neshat and the weekly Asre-Azadegan.

In October of 1999, during his tenure as the editor of Asre-Azadegan, the Tehran Press Court summoned Shamsolvaezin several times to answer charges related to the banning of his previous paper, Neshat. The following month he was detained and sentenced to thirty months on charges of insulting Islamic principles for publishing an article critical of the death penalty in Iran. His imprisonment coincided with that of other well-known reformoriented journalists including Akbar Ganji, Emadeddin Baqi, Masoud Behnoud, and Ebrahim Nabavi. Shamsolvaezin had served seventeen months of his thirty-month sentence in Evin prison before his release in April 2001.

Since his release from prison, Shamsolvaezin has continued to promote press freedoms. He has worked as the vice president and spokesperson for the Anjoman-e Defa Az Matbooat (Association for the Defense of the Freedom of Press). In August 2006, he was elected to the managerial board of the Iranian Journalists Union.

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Leading Iranian philosopher Abdol-Karim Soroush, a central figure in what has become known as the Iranian religious intellectual movement, strongly influenced Shamsolvaezin's intellectual formation. Shamsolvaezin was editor of Kiyan at its inception in 1991, and the journal turned into a key forum for Soroush to explore and rework Islamic concepts. Soroush's ideas and similar discourses as printed in Kiyan attracted enthusiastic attention, particularly among women and the younger population. Kiyan also published the works of several other important figures, including former revolutionary guard soldier-turned-dissident Akbar Ganji. Letters of protest Ganji wrote when jailed on charges of "disturbing the public order" were printed in the pages of the journal. As a result of his activities with Kiyan, Shamsolvaezin gained a reputation as both a producer and disseminator of influential ideas.

Shamsolvaezin's significant role in shaping the nature and direction of public discourses about Iranian society and politics were evident during his tenure with Jam'eh, Tus, Neshat, and Asr-e Azadegan. These papers fostered and contributed to debates on critical issues concerning the nature and structure of the state and the laws on which it is based.

THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE

Shamsolvaezin's contributions to Iranian journalism and the development of intellectual and political discourses have not been widely considered outside Iran. However, after his arrest in 1999 for his work as a publisher and an advocate of press freedoms in Iran, he did garner international attention. While in prison, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists honored Shamsolvaezin with an International Press Freedom Award in 2000.

LEGACY

Shamsolvaezin's contributions to dynamic intellectual and political debates about the nature and basis of the Iranian state and society opened new spaces for tackling the most sensitive and significant issues facing Iran. His influence remains despite the persecution and subsequent closure of his newspapers and journals. While his work at Kiyan was instrumental in fostering discourses within Iran's intellectual religious movement, the ultimate impact and legacy of Shamsolvaezin's work to champion press freedoms in Iran remains to be determined.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jahanbakhsh, Forough. Islam, Democracy and Religious Modernism in Iran, 1953–2000: From Bazargan to Soroush. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001.

Khiabany, Gholam, and Annabelle Sreberny. "The Iranian Press and the Continuing Struggle Over Civil Society 1998–2000." International Communication Gazette, 63(2-3) (2001), 203-223.

                                             Niki Akhavan

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