Committee of Human Rights Reporters – In the course of the ongoing pressures and restrictions imposed on the country’s media and Internet outlets, sources have reported arrests of a number of Facebook users and cyber activists in Iran’s Khorasan province.
According to CHRR, on Sunday July 27, 2014, Security agents detained Hamid Hekmati, Esmail Izadi Farid Saremi, Ali Chinisaz, Zahra Kaebi, Farhad Salehi and one other individual in the city of Mashhad. Per reports plainclothes officials approached the cyber activists at the Khak Cultural Center, arrested all 7 of them and transferred them to an undisclosed location. In conjunction with the arrests, Security agents raided the homes of Esmail Izadi and Farid Saremi, conducted a massive search and confiscated their personal computers, documents, files and satellite equipment.
Despite efforts on the part of their families to obtain any information with days gone by since their detainment, the whereabouts and condition of these Facebook and cyber activists remains unknown.
Mr. Hekmati and Chinisaz, bloggers who have been critical of the ruling establishment were previously detained in 2009 during the mass uprisings following the contested presidential election results. Also during that time student activist Esmail Izadi received an official reprimand from the Disciplinary Committee stemming from his activities.
These new arrests come on the heels of other cases during the past months with a number of bloggers and Facebook activists detained and sentenced to very heavy prison terms. On February 16, 2014 Judge Moghiseh presiding over Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced eight people to prison terms combining about 127 years for Internet activities. The unusually harsh verdict stemmed from various charges including “gathering and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the regime,” “insulting the holy,” “blasphemy,” and “insulting heads of government branches.”
Reports indicate that IRGC’s Sarallah Base had monitored and pursued the individuals in the cities of Tehran, Shiraz, Kerman, Yazd and Abadan for months before their arrest in July 2013. Per reports these were isolated individuals who were not political activists but had simply shared their opinions on cyberspace, mostly on Facebook. Using rules from the old Penal Code and applying them to the new Islamic Penal Code, Judge Moghiseh notorious for his harsh sentences handed these individuals much tougher verdicts than usually allowed.
One of the eight, Roya Sabarinejad Nobakht, is a British national of Iranian descent who had travelled to Iran to visit relatives when she was arrested by Security agents and eventually received a 20-year prison sentence. Her heavy verdict stemmed from the charges of “gathering information with the intent to harm national security,” and “blasphemy.” For six years she and her husband who are both dual citizens of Iran and the United Kingdom lived in the city of Stockport located in the outskirts of Manchester U.K. Her husband told the Manchester Evening News that she was detained over comments she had made to friends in Facebook and online chat about Iran’s government being “too Islamic.”
The other 7 who were handed sentences by Judge Moghiseh and their verdicts are as follows:
Amir Golestani – 20 years; Masoud Ghasemkhani – 19 years & 91 days; Fariborz Kardarfar – 8 years & 91 days; Amin Akramipour – 13 years; Seyed Masoud Talebi – 15 years; Mehdi Reyshahri – 11 years; Naghmeh Shahisavandi Shirazi – 7 years & 91 days.
On July 28 Reporters Without Borders published a report citing Iran as the world’s leading jailer of female journalists and netizens. In addition an RSF executive said “with 65 journalists and netizens in prison, Iran is still one of the world’s biggest prisons for people working in the media.” Per the freedom of press rankings for 2014, Iran is ranked 173 out of 180 countries.