A confidential directive from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, sent to several domestic media in December 2013, defining new limitations on publishing information about Iranian nuclear activities.

In a new interview with the Islamic Republic of Iran News Agency (IRNA), Kayvan Khosravi, the Spokesperson for the Supreme National Security Council Secretariat, cautioned the media not to publish news quoting any authorities other than the Supreme Security Council’s Secretariat office. “Announcing news and information related to the Supreme National Security Council and its Secretariat by any official is not allowed, and [any] resolutions, decisions, and news appropriate for publication in the media will solely be announced by the Council’s Secretariat,” Khosravi said. “Any action that would lead to the publication of such resolutions will be prosecutable as a criminal act.”

Khosravi also announced that henceforth the Secretariat office will be the only source for publishing information pertaining to the Supreme Council of National Security (SNSC). Referring to statements made in recent days, incorrectly attributing certain decisions to the Supreme National Security Council, Khosravi cautioned, “Observing the requirements and considerations in the national security area must be addressed more seriously by individuals who have sensitive positions in the country.”

In what became the Rouhani administration’s first official restriction on the free flow of information, last December, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance conveyed the SNSC’s gag order to the media, prohibiting them from reporting “unofficial” news about the nuclear issue or the case of Crescent Oil, for which the SNSC formed a committee “to address the Crescent case either through negotiation or through settlement.” The confidential directives from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, sent to several domestic media, defined new limitations on publishing information about Iranian nuclear activities and the Crescent case. The directives were based on a Supreme National Security Council resolution. One of the letters stated that news media are henceforth not allowed to directly publish news about the nuclear negotiations and the IAEA, and that they must not publish independent translations of the IAEA reports about the Iranian nuclear activities. Media were advised to use the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran as the source for their news about the nuclear program. The directive on Crescent cited “the existence of sensitivities around the Crescent case” as the reason for the restrictions on the media.

The SNSC has repeatedly prohibited the media from covering news it deems “sensitive.” Following the disputed results of the 2009 presidential election and the government’s brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests, in September 2009 the SNSC contacted the Iranian press by telephone and asked them not to publish any news about the two reformist presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

According to Article 9 of the Iranian Constitution, “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the freedom, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of the country are inseparable from one another, and their preservation is the duty of the government and all individual citizens. No individual, group, or authority has the right to infringe in the slightest way upon the political, cultural, economic, and military independence or the territorial integrity of Iran under the pretext of exercising freedom. Similarly, no authority has the right to abrogate legitimate freedoms, not even by enacting laws and regulations for that purpose, under the pretext of preserving the independence and territorial integrity of the country.”

However, according to the Iranian Press Law, the Supreme National Security Council is allowed to restrict the media from covering specific topics. By placing restrictions on reporting and discussing subjects such as the Iranian nuclear program, Iran-US relations, Israel, and many other sensitive subjects for Iranian civil and political society, this Council has used the Press Law to prevent the media from reporting the facts and conveying public reactions to these issues. In fact, with its very general interpretation of the law, the Supreme National Security Council has now become part of the official and legal censorship machinery of the Iranian government, and the fact that the SNSC’s former Chairman Hassan Rouhani is now President of Iran does not seem to have made a difference in this role.