REGIONS:

SUBSCRIBE:

Sign up for weekly updates

Crackdown on dissent extends to "last available sanctuary" for free expression: the web

A victim of Iran's online crackdown: Web developer Saeed Malekpour had a death sentence confirmed this month for allegedly hosting illegal content online
A victim of Iran's online crackdown: Web developer Saeed Malekpour had a death sentence confirmed this month for allegedly hosting illegal content online

Undated Facebook photo

Earlier this month, web developer Saeed Malekpour and IT professionals Vahid Asghari and Ahmad Reza Hasempour had their death sentences confirmed for allegedly hosting illegal content online, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). They are the newest victims of Iran's latest wave of arrests and convictions - one that has mushroomed into a clampdown against online dissent, just before parliamentary elections on 2 March.

CPJ says Asghari, Hasempour and Malekpour have been described by the Iranian authorities as "The Strayed Three" (the "Mozzelin 3"). "Iran has a relatively new policy of dismantling 'destructive' online networks, and the three appear to have been rounded up as part of this crackdown," says CPJ.

According to CPJ, it is not clear whether the three were involved in illegal hosting. For instance, Malekpour's wife, Fatima Eftekhari, has stated that his involvement was limited to writing a generic uploading script which was then used by the publishers of adult websites.

"If true, that means that in Iran, putting your name to an open source utility could leave you detained, beaten and tortured, and then sentenced to death," said CPJ.

The confirmed sentences come at a time when Iran has ramped up its persecution of netizens and journalists - with little or no public explanation why they are being charged.

To cite just a few examples: Mohammad Solimaninya, the head the business-related social networking website u24 and the creator and host of many civil society organisation websites, was arrested on 20 January, reports RSF. Plainclothes intelligence ministry officials searched his home and seized his computer, hard disks and CDs. His family still does not know why he was arrested or where he is being held.

Simien Nematollahi, a member of the religious minority Gonabadi Dervishes and contributor to its news website Majzooban-e-Noor, was arrested at her Tehran home by intelligence ministry officials on 11 January on a charge of anti-government propaganda. In September, authorities arrested at least 30 members of the religious group, including a number of Majzooban journalists. Six of the journalists remain in jail, says CPJ.

Mohammad Reza Pourshajari, a blogger who has been held since September 2010, was tried by a revolutionary court in Karaj on 21 December 2011 on a charge of insulting the Prophet - which carries a possible death sentence - in articles posted on his blog and in letters sent to government officials while he was in jail, says RSF. His daughter said the trial only lasted 15 minutes and took place without his lawyer being present.

See CPJ and RSF for comprehensive lists of recent incidents.

According to RSF, since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June 2009, more than 100 bloggers have been arrested and given one- to twenty-year jail sentences "in a paranoid response to the 'soft war' waged by 'Iran's enemies'."

Iran is one of the worst-ranked countries in RSF's just-launched Press Freedom Index. A total of 54 journalists and netizens are currently detained, says RSF, making it one of the world's worst jailers of the media.

Late last year, Iran passed the Computer Crimes Law, which is full of provisions that criminalise free expression - including the death penalty for crimes committed against public morality and chastity. The government is also given ample room "to pursue its own prerogatives above the interests of the public and the imperatives of international human rights law," says ARTICLE 19.

For example, Human Rights Watch reports that on 4 January, local newspapers printed regulations issued by Iran's new cyber police unit that gave Internet cafés 15 days to install security cameras and begin collecting personal information from customers for tracking purposes.

"[The Computer Crimes Law] demonstrates the resolve of the Iranian government to pursue human rights defenders, bloggers and journalists through electronic media: the last available sanctuary for freedom of expression and political dissent in the country," lamented ARTICLE 19.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Related stories on ifex.org
  • Targeting of journalists ongoing

    Security forces arrested Sahamoddin Boureghani, searched his home and took him to an unknown location.

  • Arrests of netizens ongoing

    Simien Nematollahi, a contributer to the pro-Sufi website Majzooban, was arrested at her Tehran home by intelligence ministry officials on 11 January on a charge of anti-government propaganda.

  • Bloggers' death sentences confirmed; more journalists arrested

    Death sentences issued in January 2011 against Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari were confirmed by the revolutionary courts.



Latest Tweet:

Cambodia: @CCIM_KH has published “Best Practices Guide for Citizen Journalism Projects” https://t.co/cKFKxJAUc5 C… https://t.co/SdFQVyiUnp

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.

CLOSE