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Ctrl+Alt+Delete: Iran's Response to the Internet

4. Arrest, Detention and Torture of Cyber-Journalists and Bloggers

Individual cyber-journalists and bloggers were targeted even as the regime began developing the complicated legal and bureaucratic framework meant to control and dominate the Internet accessed by Iranians. Since at least 2002 and continuing into the present, cyber-journalist and bloggers have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment. These actions are intended to increase the price of expression in general and Internet expression in particular.

4.1. Arrests in Tehran During the Reformist Era

On December 12, 2002, Ghasem Sholeh Sadi, a former member of Majles, a law professor, and a journalist, published an open letter online to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The letter questioned Khamenei’s clerical legitimacy217 as well as his foreign and domestic policies.218 It was widely circulated through e-mail and garnered much attention. On February 24, 2003, upon his return from a trip to Paris, Sholeh Sadi was arrested in Tehran’s Mehrabad airport.219 He was allowed only one phone call to his wife, permitted no visits, and was held in solitary confinement for several weeks. In reaction to his treatment, he began a hunger strike on March 8.220 He was released and later explained in an interview with Radio France International (RFI) that he was tortured and forced to tape a confession while being held in Evin prison.221

Sina Motalebi, a print journalist who had a blog, was arrested a month later on April 20, 2003. He is considered to be one of the first people in the world arrested for the contents of a blog.222 He had begun writing his blog in 2001 after facing censorship as a journalist.223 For five months leading up to his arrest, Motalebi was repeatedly summoned to an office of the Judiciary.224 He was told the meetings were to remain secret and that he was not to report them on his blog.225 However, Motalebi posted a blog entry expressing his suspicions that he would be arrested when summoned to the Amaken office:226

They questioned me about my Weblog, and they accused me of countersecurity activities … both for my Weblog entries and for my interviews with foreign radio … They summoned me [for questioning] five times before arresting me April 20. On April 19, they called me and asked me to go to a special office of the law enforcement … because they summoned me not to court but to [the Amaken] office—where another journalist was arrested—I was almost sure this time they wanted to arrest me. So I put an entry about it on my Weblog … I think that entry helped me very much, because at the interrogation when they arrested me, they said ‘Nobody knows about your case.’ And I said, ‘No, I wrote something about that on my Web site.’227

[217]At the time of his appointment to the Office of Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei did not have the overwhelming support of the clerical establishment because he had not obtained the necessary clerical credentials. The Constitution was amended in order to pave the way for his selection as the Supreme Leader. MAJID MOHAMMADI, JUDICIAL REFORM AND REORGANIZATION IN 20TH CENTURY IRAN: STATE-BUILDING, MODERNIZATION AND ISLAMICIZATION 157-58 (2008); AFSHARI, supra note 4, at 17-18, 225; Sanam Vakil, Iran’s Master Puppeteer, ASIA TIMES, Jan. 20, 2006, available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/HA20Ak01.html (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).
[218]Letter from Ghassem Sholeh Sadi, former member of Majlis, to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Dec. 7, 2002), reprinted in and available at http://www.iranian.com/Opinion/2002/December/Sadi/index2.html (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).
[219]Nazila Fathi, Dissident Arrested at Airport, N.Y. TIMES, Feb. 26, 2003, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/26/world/world-briefing-middle-east-iran-dissident-arrested-at-airport.html?n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/People/F/Fathi,%20Nazila (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).
[220]Vazi’yat-i Nama’lum-i Sholeh Sadi [Unkown Condition of Sholeh Sadi’s], PEIKNET.NET, available (in Persian) at http://peiknet.net/v_na_m_saeedi.htm (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).
[221]Nukhustin Guzarish-i Mustaqim-i Shikanjihyyih Vahshiyanihyyih Danishjuyan [The First Direct Account of the Violent Torture of Students], PEIKNET.NET, available (in Persian) at http://www.peiknet.com/1382/milla/page0/shekanje.tir.39.htm (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).
[222]Jeff Black, Online Dissidents, THE INDEPENDENT, June 21, 2006, available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/egypt-releases-blogger-jailed-for-45-days-after-insulting-president-404865.html (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).
[223]Price Paid for Blogging, supra note 90.
[224]Bazdasht-i Yik Viblagnivis va Muntaqid-i Sinima-i [The Arrest of a Blogger and Movie Critic], ISNA, 31/1/1382 [Apr. 20, 2003], available (in Persian) at http://isna.ir/ISNA/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-217268 (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[225]Amnesty Event, supra note 3.
[226]Glaser, supra note 89.
[227]Id. (quoting from the edited transcript of a phone interview of Sina Motalebi).

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Tagged as:

Free Speech, Right to Protest, Cyber Journalism, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Free Association, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination