Justice minister says Iran cannot be compared to Ukraine

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In response to the shock and enthusiasm of the Iranian media to the Ukrainian street protests that forced out President Victor Yanukovych, Iran’s justice minister has tried to distance the upheaval in Ukraine from domestic Iranian politics by urging newspapers to show some restraint in their coverage.

“We have to be very careful to preserve this atmosphere,” Mostafa Pourmohammadi said yesterday at the weekly session of Ministry of Justice officials. “What happened in Ukraine, some newspapers put up headlines as if a domestic event took place. An individual says something and it makes it into the top headline.”

In reference to the Orange Revolution protests that began in Ukraine in 2004, Pourmohammadi said that some newspapers put “large, colorful pictures on the logo of a newspaper with the color of that political movement of the country. The manner in which they feel victorious, if there is a political event or transformation somewhere else, they turn it into a domestic issue.”

Pourmohamamdi also said that some newspapers were lamenting the ouster of Yanukovych and “give reports or put up headlines such that they had lost something and are in mourning. It really is surprising.”

The contrast in Iranian newspapers’ reactions to Ukraine can be best seen through Reformist newspaper Shargh and hard-line paper Vatan-e Emrooz.

Shargh’s top story and picture (above), taking up nearly two-thirds of the top fold of the paper, was of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko addressing Independence Square protesters in Kiev in her wheelchair immediately after her release from prison. The top line in the picture reads, “Ukraine’s president has fled, Tymoshenko is free.” The second line and the title of the report is “The Orange Day,” with “orange” in orange font. The sub-headline read “Tymoshenko among supporters,” with a quote from her speech.

Given the failure of the Green Movement in the 2009 presidential elections and the continued imprisonment of its leaders, it seems natural that Reformist newspapers would look favorably upon the success of street protests and the freeing of an opposition figure.

Hard-line Vatan-e Emrooz (below), whose editor has close ties to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, chose as its headline “Demo-wreck-cracy,” a play on words from the Iranian book Democracy or Demo-wreck-cracy by Seyed Mehdi Shojae. The sub-headline read, “Ukraine’s capital has fallen with pro-Western street coup.”

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Their picture of a man standing in rubble in front of a destroyed building and holding a flag could represent not only what hard-liners think of street protests in general, but according to their own statements, what they feared would have happened in 2009 had they not cracked down.

Pourmohammadi viewed the events taking place in Ukraine as unique to that country and completely unrelated to Iran’s position in the world.

“Our people have sobriety, authenticity and solidarity, and such a bright history and a strong power of influence,” Pourmohhamadi said. “But countries like Ukraine — that in one round become inclined to the West, and again became inclined to the East, and once again the movements taking place make it inclined toward the West — they’re not at the level … that Iran would use large headlines and colorful logos.”

“We have to distance ourselves from this emotional atmosphere,” he continued. “Our country and system are not comparable to places like this.”