Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about serious human rights violations by the Revolutionary Guards against journalists and netizens held in Iranian prisons. Prosecutors may be about to request the death penalty for two bloggers who have been detained since 2008, Vahid Asghari and Hossein Derakhshan.
“The serious charges against Asghari and Derakhshan, which are completely groundless, are punishable by the death penalty under Islamic law,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The international community must intervene and demand explanations from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is backed by the Revolutionary Guards, and from the judicial authorities, who are abusing the law.”
Organised Crime Surveillance Centre
Ever since its creation by the Revolutionary Guards in March 2009, the Organised Crime Surveillance Centre has played an active role in tracking down and arresting outspoken netizens.
Shortly after its creation, the centre announced the dismantling of a “malevolent” online network in March 2009 and the arrests of several website moderators. Their photos and “confessions” were posted on the centre’s website, Gerdab (www.gerdab.ir), a few days later. They reportedly admitted to links with websites that criticised Islam and the government, and to their intention of “misleading” Iranian youth by publicising porn sites. They also confessed to participating in a plot supported by the Americans and Israelis.
On 17 June 2009, two days after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection triggered a wave of street protests, the centre issued a communiqué announcing that it had noted “several cases of websites and personal blogs posting articles inciting disturbances of public order and urging the population to rebel.”
“These sites, created with the help of American and Canadian companies, receive the support of media that are protected by the American and British security services such as the BBC, Radio Farda (Free Europe) and Radio Zamaneh,” the statement added, urging website managers to suppress “content that incites the population to riot and spreads threats and rumours.”
One of the Revolutionary Guard commanders, Ebrahim Jabari, officially confirmed on 20 May of this year that a “cyber army” had been created to crack down on “destructive” online networks. The “cyber army” has reportedly been responsible for the arrests of hundreds of netizens and attacks on such websites as Twitter and the Radio Zamaneh site.
Prison conditions, forced confessions
Detainees have been subjected to long periods of solitary confinement and to torture to obtain confessions that are used in their trials. Asghari, a leading target of the “network dismantling” policy, is one of the victims of such abuses. Aged 24 and an ICT student in India, he was arrested on 11 May 2008 at Tehran airport for possessing several credit cards. He is still awaiting trial more than two years later.
He was held in solitary confinement for seven month and was mistreated and tortured to make him confess to organising a pornographic network that blasphemed Islam and criticised the government in order to pervert Iranian youth. And what was Asghari’s crime ? Hosting websites, including the sites of government opponents.
“I was beaten with a stick for hours and hours while blindfolded and handcuffed,” he wrote in a letter to the president of the 15th chamber of the Revolutionary Court on 17 October 2009. “With a knife against my throat, I was threatened with death and rape. I and my family were insulted. I was forced to make a confession and sign it. They then videoed my confession and broadcast the video with the national television station’s complicity although I was legally presumed to be innocent.”
According to article 168 of the constitution, defendants prosecuted on political charges should be given public, jury trials but most of the trials have been held behind closed doors. Their lawyers are often sidelined and denied access to the case files and in some cases defendants were not told they had been tried and condemned. Asghari said in his letter : “I have never seen my lawyer and, even in court, I did not have the right to say hello to him.”
Asghari also wrote : “I was alleged to have received money from abroad as a result of Google advertising on the websites I hosted. I was accused of insulting the Shiite Imams and the Prophet because of their content. And I was forced to say that Hossein Derakhshan was an agent of both the Iranian ministry of intelligence and the CIA.”
Derakhshan, who has Iranian and Canadian dual nationality, was arrested by Revolutionary Guards on 1 November 2008. He was given a trial without due process and has remained in detention even since awaiting the court’s verdict.
A trumped-up charge of “insulting government leaders and Islam’s holy texts” was brought against him although he clearly defended not only the Islamic revolution’s principles but also President Ahmadinejad’s policies in his blog entries. He appears to be a collateral victim of the in-fighting between the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian intelligence services. Sign the petition calling for his release.
Two other bloggers, Kouhyar Goudarzi and Hossien Ronaghi Maleki, are also being held in extremely arduous conditions.
“Canada and the rest of the international community must redouble their efforts to get the Iranian authorities to release all of the imprisoned netizens and journalists,” Reporters Without Borders added. Nine netizens and 26 journalists are currently detained in Iran, which is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet.”