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Iran court sentences 12 netizens to lengthy prison terms for social media activities

Reporters Without Borders condemns – yet again – arrests and heavy sentences handed down against numerous journalists and netizens. On 27 May 2014, 12 information activists in several cities were sentenced by the regime's revolutionary courts to a total of 135 years in prison for social-media activities.

On 28 May 2014, journalist Saba Azarpeyk was arrested. Her family does not know the charges against her or where she is being held. A reporter for the monthly Tejarat-e-Farda and Etemad, a daily paper, Azarpeyk was taken into custody at her office by intelligence ministry agents in civilian clothes. Azarpeyk had been one of the victims of “Black Sunday” a repressive operation in January 2013 against media workers in which 19 journalists were arrested.

According to the Khaibaronline website, which is close to conservative hardliners and intelligence agencies, the journalist was “conducting enquiries concerning media of the Revolutionary Front” – a term used to designate conservatives aligned with the Supreme Guide.

This arrest takes place against the backdrop of a fierce conflict between rival factions within the regime. The factions and their intelligence arms finance and direct their own media organizations. These are hate media, used as weapons in power struggles and to aid in the repression of independent journalists and civil society activists. They enjoy complete impunity.

In addition, the intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guard create counterfeit websites with critical content or insults directed at the regime and its leaders. The purpose is to trap web users by inciting them to post commentaries.

On 27 May, eight netizens were sentenced by the 28th branch of the revolutionary court in Tehran to a total of 123 years in prison on charges including anti-regime publicity, insults to religion and insults to the Supreme Guide of the revolution. Amir Gholestani was sentenced to 20 years and one day; Roya Sabery Nejad to 20 years; Masoud Ghasemkhani, 19 years and 91 days; Fariboz Kardarfar, 18 years, 91 days; Seyyed Masoud Seyyed Talebi, 15 years and one day; Amin (Faride) Akraminpour, 13 years; Mehdi Reyshahri, 11 years; Naghmeh Shahi Soandi Shirazi, 7 years and 91 days; These netizens had been arrested in early September 2013 by the Revolutionary Guard and held in solitary confinement in section 2A of Evin Prison, where they were subjected to intense pressure.

Meanwhile, on 26 May, an appeals court in the city of Ahvaz, in Khuzestan province, upheld convictions of three netizens, Hamzeh Zargani, Saleh Tofi and Adel Sadoni. Arrested on 9 April 2013, and held since then in Karon Prison, each had been sentenced last year to three years in prison for anti-regime publicity in the form of Facebook pages.

Reporters Without Borders has also learned of the re-imprisonment on 22 May of Farideh Shahgoli, a German-Iranian netizen, to serve out a three-year term for anti-regime publicity and insulting Ali Khamenei by way of content on her Facebook page. Having lived in Germany for 25 years, she was arrested in 2011 during a visit to relatives in Iran.

Days before her re-arrest, she wrote an open letter to President Hassan Rohani in which she described the painful conditions she had endured in prison. “Held in solitary confinement for 50 days, I was under constant pressure to confess...The interrogator wanted me to acknowledge being the source of a caricature or of insults sent by other people to my pages; people whose identities were clearly well known to my interrogators. The judge unfortunately knew nothing about social media. He did not want to understand that I was not the source of insulting content on my Facebook page.”

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