Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the practice of detaining the relatives of foreign-based netizens as hostages and harassing the families of journalists who work for foreign media. It also deplores the fact that around 10 bloggers and netizens have been arrested since 21 May in Tehran, Mashhad, Hamadan and other cities for “insulting Islam.”
Cyber-police in Hamadan said the editor of a social network page “insulting Islam and the Shiite imams” was tracked down and arrested on 25 June. Reporters Without Borders is not yet able to confirm the exact number and identity of all those who have been arrested on similar charges in the past few days.
Kalameh, a website that supports Iran’s reformists, reports: “The wave of arrests of netizens in Iran began at the end of May. Most of the victims are students. Intelligence officers are pressuring their families to say nothing and to not get in touch with the media.”
According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the Organized Crime Surveillance Centre, an agency created by the Revolutionary Guards, has played an active role in identifying and arresting the netizens. Those arrested are currently being held in Tehran’s Evin prison, where they have been placed in isolation cells in Section 240 (controlled by the Revolutionary Guards) or in Section 209 (controlled by the intelligence ministry).
Yashar Khameneh, an Iranian student based in Europe, wrote in his blog on 26 June: “My father, Abbas Khameneh, has been a hostage of the intelligence ministry for the past five weeks. No charge has been brought against him, and he has not been allowed to speak to a lawyer or receive visits. He was arrested because he is my father.
“A few days after his arrest, they threatened to execute him if I did not send them a video in which I said I was sorry for what I had written. I did this, but they still have not released my father and now they are demanding all the information about my email and Facebook accounts, closure of the ‘International Campaign for Imam Naghi’ [a satirical Facebook page about the tenth of the 12 Shiite Imams] and my return to Iran.”
This is not the first time that the regime has threatened the families of journalists based abroad or has used intimidation as a way of imposing its law on the media. Steven W. Korn, the head of Prague-based Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, and Arman Mostofi, the head of Radio Farda (Radio Free Europe’s Persian section), reported on 12 June that threats to the families of foreign-based journalists working for Radio Farda have intensified in the past year.
Peter Horrocks, the head of global news at the BBC, reported last October that relatives of Iranians who work in London for BBC Persian Television had been harassed by the Iranian authorities following the broadcast of a documentary about the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He said they were summoned for questioning, passports were confiscated and some were banned from leaving the country.
A woman journalist employed by BBC Persian Television even had to agree to be interrogated via an Internet connection after her sister was arrested by the intelligence ministry.
“Steeped in corruption and tyranny, Iran’s theocracy is closing the door on freedom of opinion and expression by manipulating religion and by repeatedly using the charge of ‘insulting Islam’ in order to suppress any debate,” Reporters Without Borders said.
The organization is deeply shocked by the low and underhand methods that the regime uses to put pressure on its critics in the media and online, both in Iran and abroad. Those who are forced to flee abroad to escape the Islamic Republic’s indiscriminate repression are not safe even when they find refuge in countries that respect freedom of expression.
“The international community must react,” Reporters Without Borders added. “We urge United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to condemn these arbitrary abductions and this harassment of the relatives of dissidents as crimes by the Iranian state.”