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

The pace of arrests increased in the fall of 2004 as part of the campaign begun by Chief Prosecutor Mortazavi. As described above, in August 2004, Mortazavi directed the arrests of technicians working for the reformist electronic publications Rooydad and Emrooz.239 On September 7, 2004, Babak Ghafoori Azar and Shahram Rafizadeh were arrested. Rafizadeh was the editor of the cultural section of Etemad, a prominent reformist newspaper. He had also written books and articles on domestic assassinations and other crimes of the regime’s parallel intelligence apparatus.240 Ghafoori Azar is a journalist who was working for the financial daily Hayateno but was allegedly detained for his writings on the Rooydad news site.241 Both journalists kept blogs which they regularly updated with their opinions. Azar was released two weeks after his arrest.242 He lives in Iran and continues to publish online.

Rafizadeh was taken into custody by Amaken officers who innocuously asked to speak with him outside his office building. When a co-worker tried to write down the license plate number of the car, an officer confiscated his pad and told him that it was a legal arrest. After being blindfolded, Rafizadeh was taken to an undisclosed location for interrogation.243

In Amaken they forced me to change cars. They sat me in the back of a black car that had curtains. They talked to each other for a while. Then one of them hit me from behind and said “Put your head down.” Their attitude suddenly changed. They blindfolded me and took me to a different location. I think we entered a courtyard. We passed a corridor on the left side of the courtyard, and they took me into a house that appeared to be a detention center. They took my glasses, belt and shoes away. A metal door opened and they threw me in a cell. The cell was very dark. It had a large vent. I stayed there for about two hours. I could hear strange noises, but I couldn’t tell what they were.244

Rafizadeh was imprisoned for 86 days, 73 of which were in solitary confinement. While in prison, physical assaults were not limited to fists, kicks and being thrown against walls:

Physical beatings did not only include punching and kicking. Once they smashed a washbowl that was in the interrogation room on my head. On other occasions, they whipped my back and feet with cable wires. When I resisted, they whipped me all over—on my back, butt, and legs—all the way down to my heels. I don’t know how many times they whipped me. It varied. Sometimes they hit me ten times, sometimes twenty or thirty, and other times more. There were short pauses between the torture sessions, during which the interrogators asked more questions. If they didn’t get the answer they wanted, the torture continued.245

Rafizadeh initially found his arrest puzzling because he had not written a traditional press article in ten months.246 He explained to IHRDC that

[f]or a while I didn’t even know why I had been arrested, until I realized that most of the detainees were webloggers, information technology employees and website designers. Some of the others had been arrested and detained because they had reproduced and published banned books. I was the only one among them who had actually written articles [exclusively] on blogs. This is how I discovered that they had arrested me for my blogging activities.247

However, Rafizadeh had spent some time investigating the strategies of the repressive elements in the Iranian regime and was therefore unsurprised by the tactics used by the parallel intelligence agents who arrested him.248 In his view, the suppression of bloggers was a specific and distinct project that the conservative elements in the Islamic Republic had set in motion with detailed plans and with the assistance, if not direction, of Prosecutor Mortazavi and Judge Zafarghandi.249 His arrest and detention conformed to the pattern of the other arrests and confirmed his belief.

[239]Islamic Iran Participation Front Letter, supra note 181.
[240]Witness Statement of Shahram Rafizadeh, prepared by IHRDC and approved by witness (Feb. 26, 2009), ¶¶ 1-2 [hereinafter Witness Statement by Rafizadeh]. IHRDC interviewed Shahram Rafizadeh on September 12, 2008, available at http://iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/pdfs/WitnessStatements/SRWS.pdf; Akharin Akhbar az Vaz’iat-i Hanif Mazrui, Babak Ghafoori Azar, va Shahram Rafizadeh [The Latest on Hanif Mazrui, Babank Ghafoori Azar and Shahram Rafizadeh], ISNA, 20/6/1383 [Sept. 10, 2004], available at http://isna.ir/ISNA/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-429185 (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).
[241]REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS, IRAN – ANNUAL REPORT (2005), available at http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=13306 (last visited Apr. 24, 2009) [hereinafter RWB 2005 ANNUAL REPORT].
[242]Babak Ghafoori Azar Azad Shud [Babak Ghafoori Azar Is Released], ISNA, 1/7/1383 [Sept. 22, 2004], available at http://isna.ir/ISNA/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-434347 (last visited Apr. 24, 2009).
[243]Witness Statement by Rafizadeh, supra note 240, ¶¶ 24-29.
[244]Id. ¶ 29.
[245]Id. ¶ 32. Rafizadeh also reported regular threats to his life, the arrest and torture of his father and wife, and threats to the lives of his wife and children: “They threatened to kill my family in a planned traffic accident – hundreds of traffic accidents happen in Tehran every day. This could have been just another one of them.” Id. ¶ 33.
[246]Id. ¶ 23.
[247]Id. ¶ 36.
[248]Id. ¶ 30.
[249]Id. ¶¶ 6-7.

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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