The Iranian government has closed down Iran’s leading feminist magazine, Zanan (“Women” in Farsi) “for “publishing information detrimental to society’s psychological tranquility.” Zanan, which for 16 years has been a forum for Iranian women’s issues, was also accused of “offering a sombre picture of the Islamic Republic,” “compromising its readers’ mental health” and “publishing morally questionable information.” Since 2005, the Iranian government has suspended 42 publications and canceled the licenses of 24 of them, often arresting publishers and reporters in the process.
Shahla Sherkat, above, founder of Zanan, was once a hardline supporter of the Iranian government, but her views changed after the war between Iraq and Iran. She managed to operate her cutting-edge publication by avoiding politics in general, focusing on women’s issues, and scrupulously adhering to Iranian dress codes and other government mandates for women. Nevertheless, Sherkat was twice arrested, once for having made the statement, while at a conference in Berlin, that she was against a forced Islamic dress code, even though she herself adhered to a dress code. For having made that statement in response to a question from the audience, Sherkat was fined and sentenced to four months in prison.
In an interview with PBS six years ago, Sherkat said:
Journalism in the in the developing countries is like a tightrope act: if you put your foot one millimeter to one side or the other you fall down — never mind publishing a magazine only for women.
I think we can raise many of the issues in the newspapers and publications but only if we know how to present it so we can say what we want and not cross any existing lines and sensitivities in society. This is an art form for a journalist.
There are many times when my writers or readers ask me to put something in the magazine and I sit down and measure the costs and the benefits of printing something. Sometimes you print something that is of extreme value, meaning that it has a very positive impact on the reader and that one piece does great work in society. I may decide to do that even if it leads to the closure of the magazine.
Asked about her fears for the magazine, she said:
One of my fears is for whatever reason to lose Zanan magazine. That is like one of my children. Another concern is economical problems — we have many economical issues, and some nights I can’t sleep and I’m up all night sitting there with a calculator punching in numbers to see whether we can pay the salaries this month and buy paper or not.
And another concern is the political problems that exist in society and may spread to our magazine too and I wouldn’t want that to happen.
The news about the Iranian women’s movement is worse and worse with every passing day. The hope and comfort is that these courageous women have in fact powerfully communicated the realities of life in Iran for women in ways the watching world will never forget. As Delaram Ali, imprisoned and sentenced to lashings for her part in peaceful women’s demonstrations last spring, wrote in her open letter, “…we have moved beyond these tactics, the seeds have been sown, and no doubt they will bear fruit, the sweetness of which we will taste for years to come.”
I will continue to provide updates as news unfolds about Zanan and Shahla Serkat.