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Iran's Revolutionary Guard rounds up several online journalists and bloggers

Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard attend training in a Guard base in northeastern Tehran on 24 April 2015
Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard attend training in a Guard base in northeastern Tehran on 24 April 2015

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 22 June 2015.

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its condemnation of the Iranian regime's persecution of journalists and bloggers after a wave of arrests of Internet users in recent days as a result of the Revolutionary Guards monitoring of online social networks.

On 8 June, judicial system spokesman Golamhossien Mohsseni Ejehi announced the arrests of “several individuals” for social network activity regarded as “actions against national security.”

The victims of the latest Revolutionary Guard-orchestrated round-up include Mahmud Moussavifar and Shayan AkbarPour, two Internet activists who ran the Rahian Facebook page and a blog called Rahi, which cannot currently be accessed

After plainclothes men arrested them at their Tehran home on 31 May, their families reported them missing because they still do not know why they were arrested or where they were taken.

Two years of President Hassan Rouhani

In the two years since the moderate conservative Hassan Rouhani was installed as president in June 2013, around 100 Internet activists have been arrested and given long jail terms, in most cases on information provided by the Revolutionary Guards.

This persecution of news and information providers is just the continuation of the unprecedented crackdown that began immediately after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection in June 2009, when at least 300 journalists and Internet activists were arrested arbitrarily, tortured and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

But this persecution is also a weapon in the power struggle being waged among the various government factions, a weapon used to keep constant pressure on President Rouhani, who was elected thanks to the support of progressives and who, during his campaign, promised the “release of all political prisoners” and more “free speech and media freedom.”

Several journalists and Internet activists who were convicted in 2009 and 2010 by rigged revolutionary courts have since been released on completing their sentences but many others are still in prison, where they are often subjected to appalling conditions.

They include Said Razavi Faghih, Saraj Mirdamadi, Masoud Bastani, Reza Entesari, Said Madani, Said Matinpour and Alireza Rajai. Unfortunately there has been no improvement in the inhuman treatment reserved for prisoners of conscience in Iran, especially in Tehran's Evin prison and in Raja'i Shahr prison.

Furthermore, journalists are no longer able to work after completing their jail terms, regardless of whether their sentences included a post-release “ban on practicing the profession of journalist.”

Many newspaper executives and editors are given clear instructions not to hire them. One way or another, the regime prevents most independent journalists from working. Two journalists were recently fired from a media outlet by one of President Rouhani's associates solely because they had been imprisoned.

Internet activists – easy targets

With more than 40 million Internet users, according to official figures, Iran is one of the region's most connected countries. The level of government control of the Internet has been the subject of intense debate at the highest levels since Rouhani took over as president.

Compared with the Ahmadinejad era, Internet surveillance and control seem to have eased somewhat. This has not pleased the Revolutionary Guards despite benefitting their business interests as managers of Iran's leading Internet Service Provider, the Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), and the three leading mobile phone operators that are government offshoots. And this displeasure accounts for their current offensive against Internet activists.

The staff of the website Narenji (Orange in Persian) were among the first victims of the Revolutionary Guard offensive. After being arrested on 3 December 2013, Ali Asghar Honarmand, Abass Vahedi, Ehsan Paknejad and Hossien Nozari were given sentences ranging from two to eleven years in prison for “collaborating with enemy media.” Six other Narenji activists have been released conditionally. All were subjected to months of solitary confinement to extract confessions, called “acts of self-accusation,” that were used as evidence against them.

Several people with dual citizenship have been given long jail terms because of what they were posting on Facebook and other social networks. They include Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, who has dual Iranian and British citizenship. A Tehran revolutionary court sentenced her to 20 years in prison on 27 May 2014. This was reduced to five years in April of this year. Farideh Shahgholi, a woman with dual Iranian and German citizenship, is serving a three-year jail term.

Nobakht was one of many Internet activists arrested by the Revolutionary Guards in 2013. They included Amir Gholestani, Masoud Ghasemkhani, Fariborz Kardarfar, Seyyed Masoud Seyyed Talebi, Amin (Faride) Akramipour, Mehdi Reyshahri and Naghmeh Shahi Savandi Shirazi. After being placed in solitary confinement in Section 2A of Evin prison and subjected to a great deal of pressure, they were given sentences ranging from one to eight years in prison.

Damning account

One of them, Shirazi, managed to flee the country after being released provisionally and has described the terrifying experience of being held in Section 2A and pressured by interrogators. Her account constitutes yet further hard evidence of the systematic mistreatment of detainees in Iran by security and judicial officials.

Aged 31, Shahi Savandi Shirazi, was transferred to Evin prison's Section 2A after her arrest by Revolutionary Guards in January 2013 in the southeastern city of Kerman.

“The nightmare began as soon as I arrived,” she told Reporters Without Borders. “Locked up in a very small cell, I could hear the cries of a prisoner being interrogated. I trembled all the time during the first few weeks and couldn't even hold a pen in my hand (...)

“They knew everything about my online chats and my emails. All my online correspondence had been intercepted. Several of my friends had been arrested a few months before me and I now realized I'd been under close surveillance since then. The interrogators asked us to write about each other. They didn't just want us to confess to the crimes of which were accused. They also wanted to know all about our personal relations and whether we'd had immoral relations. During interrogation, they made sexist jokes to intimidate us. Once they even threatened me with rape and simulated doing it (...)

“All these confessions were used to incriminate us when our trial finally got under way before Mohammad Moghiseh, the president of the 28th chamber of the Tehran revolutionary court (...) After my provisional release pending the appeal court's ruling, my husband, with whom relations were not simple, questioned what had happened in prison and didn't want us to continue living together.

“So I returned to my family's home in Kerman. But the insulting and contemptuous phone calls continued. The interrogators kept calling me in order to threaten me or to summon me to Tehran for further interrogation (...) Under pressure, I finally decided to leave my country.”

Iran is ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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