Committee of Human Rights Reporters – In the wake of the continued crackdown on Internet freedom, a number of activists who were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards for their activities on social media and messaging outlets have been identified.
According to CHRR, Omid Moghadam, Kourosh Najdad, Habib Dehghani, Mehdi Ghanbari and Hadi Ghanbari are among 11 individuals active on Facebook and social networks recently detained in Fars province. There is no news on the situation of these activists who were arrested by IRGC forces.
Habib Dehghani and Hadi Ghanbari were detained on September 13th; Omid Moghadam and Mehdi Ghanbari were detained a few days later on September 15th in Fars province. Omid Moghadam and Mehdi Ghanbari were forcefully and violently abducted after being presented with false papers.
Reports indicate that while their families and friends were threatened to remain silent about the arrests, the homes and workplaces of all the detainees were extensively searched during violent raids.
Recently officials of the judiciary, intelligence and military forces of the Islamic Republic including Revolutionary Guard Esmail Mohebbipour, commander of Sarallah Shiraz; Revolutionary Guard commander Hossein Ashtari; and Prosecutor General and first deputy of the judiciary Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, announced the arrests of a number of cyber and social activists on the charge of “insulting Ayatollah Khomeini” and warned that social media networks would be blocked.
Following the recent arrests of 11 social network activists, Esmail Mohebbipour, IRGC commander from Sarallah Shiraz accused foreign entities and opponents of the regime of facilitating access to social media networks such as Facebook in Iran. He accused the detainees of spreading offensive content on messaging services such as Viber, WhatsApp, Line, Tango, and Telegram, and of being in possession of satellite equipment in their homes. Per the commander, the accused have confessed to insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic, and their cases have been forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for judicial proceedings.
Previously Hossein Ashtari, commander of the Revolutionary Guards and acting Chief of Police said “we have evidence that will be announced soon compiled by the FATA police force working along with the cyber police and intelligence units – of blasphemous content, insulting the holy and the Holy Imam (Ayatollah Khomeini) on mobile messaging services such as Viber.”
In July of this year, eight Facebook activists were handed harsh prison and lashing sentences totaling 127 years behind bars for various charges including acting against national security, blasphemy, spreading lies, insulting sacred symbols, and insulting the country’s supreme leader. On September 21st, one day after a warning letter by prosecutor Mohseni-Ejei demanding that Internet outlets be filtered, the aforementioned 11 individuals were arrested for activities on mobile messaging services.
In the letter Iran’s top Prosecutor and first deputy of the judiciary said that messaging services such as Viber, WhatsApp and Tango were managed by foreign entities that are hostile to the Islamic Republic. He gave the Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mahmoud Vaezi one month to “take immediate action and make necessary technical preparations for closing and controlling information” on social networks such as Viber, WhatsApp and Tango. He warned that if the one-month ultimatum was not heeded, the judiciary would take on the appropriate measures in line with its inherent duties towards controlling the social networks.
The United Nations in a report issued on September 14th on the human rights situation in Iran addressed the country’s deplorable situation concerning freedom of information. The report stated that despite President Rouhani’s pledges, “restrictions on freedom of expression continue to affect many areas of life.”
On September 23rd, Reporters without Borders published a report coinciding with the arrival of Iran’s President Rouhani in New York for the 69th United Nations General Assembly, demanding that he be questioned about media freedom in Iran. The report states that Iran continues to be one of the world’s five biggest prisons for journalists. According to the Reporters without Borders 2014 World Press Freedom Index, “Iran is one of the world’s most repressive countries as regards freedom of information. It is ranked 173rd of 180 countries.”