IRGC Targets Internet Activists

June 22, 2015

On June 22, Reporters Without Borders issued a report entitled “Revolutionary Guards Target Internet Activists.” It addresses the recent spate of arrests as well as the pattern of prosecutions since President Rouhani was elected two years ago. Iran is ranked 173rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. The following are excerpts of the report:

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 2013Ali 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…
 
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 Moussavifarand 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.
 
Click here for the full report.