Established in 1998, Neshat (Exhiliration) was a leading daily newspaper aligned with Iran’s reform movement that began publishing after Jamee and Toos, two other popular reformist newspapers, were shut down. Neshat’s director and editor in chief were Latif Safari and Mashallah Shamsolvaezi respectively. Shamsolvaezi was previously editor in chief at Jamee and Toos. Latif Safari was previously a member of Iran’s parliament. With an estimated 200,000 readers, Neshat thrived under reformist President Khatami’s cultural opening policies.
On September 5th, 1999 Neshat became the fourth reformist newspaper shut down by Iran’s conservative courts. Latif Safari, the paper’s director, was arrested and subsequently barred from journalism for five years and given a 30-month total suspended jail sentence. The three separate suspended jail sentences included one year for “inciting students to demonstrate and harming state security,” another year for “insulting the commander-in-chief of the Iranian police” and six months for “offending and insulting” members of Parliament. Two controversial articles published in Neshat, in September of 1999, were what ultimately angered Iran’s conservative-controlled judiciary and led to Safari’s arrest. One was an article questioning Iran’s laws on the death penalty and the strict “eye-for-an-eye” law in place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution; another was an open letter by Yadollah Sahabi, a political activist and member of the Freedom Movement in Iran, questioning the authority of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
In a press conference Safari said, “The court was biased and influenced by a certain political faction. Their approach was more political than legal, and marked by double standards...We want the case to be investigated in a neutral court in the presence of a jury.” Mashallah Shamsolvaezi, the former Neshat editor in chief took the same position at another press, Asr-e Azadegan (Age of the Free) once Neshat was shut down. Shamsolvaezi was arrested soon after, and imprisoned by November of the same year.
Many of the editors at Neshat saw Safari’s September 1999 arrest as a political move to intimidate the pro-reform press ahead of the parliamentary elections in advance of the February 2000 elections. It was well known that Khatami’s allies’ the main tool for publicity ahead of the elections was the reformist press.
The closure of the popular newspaper sparked a battle between Iran’s moderate Minister of Culture Ataollah Mohajerani and Iran’s chief justice, Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi. The minister of culture publicly attacked the courts by claiming they had no basis for shutting down the newspaper.
It was only five days after Neshat was officially shut down that the paper’s old editorial team came out with a new daily entitled “Akhbar-e Eghtesad” (News of the Economy); Safari told readers, “As the publication of Akhbar-e Eqtesad has coincided with the banning of Neshat, it is important to make clear that this newspaper is not out to act as a surrogate for any other paper.”
Iran’s Supreme Court permitted Neshat to reopen again in 2004. Many analysts saw this as a political move that showed greater tolerance ahead of the June presidential elections. Years later, however, the paper was once again ordered to shut down. Finally, in 2011 the judiciary officially lifted the eleven-year ban on the newspaper.