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

On September 8, 2004, a day after the arrests of Rafizadeh and Ghafoori Azar, Hanif Mazrui received a summons for his arrest. Mazrui is a journalist who wrote for several reformist news outlets, including the reformist website Rooydad.250 In response to the summons, Mazrui’s father, the head of the Journalist Union and former parliamentarian, Rajab Ali Mazrui, escorted his son to the police station where Mazrui was taken into custody. His father was denied the right to visit Mazrui during the entire 66 days of his detention.251 Fifty-nine of those days were spent in solitary confinement, in a 2 x 1.5 meter cell. Apart from interrogations, he was only let out of his cell for three visits to the bathroom a day, for three minutes each. During his initial interrogation session, blindfolded and facing a wall, Mazrui asked to know the charges against him. He was told to simply answer the interrogator’s questions about his immoral acts and adultery. When he denied such acts, he was beaten.252 He was released after posting 150 million rials (US$17,000) in bail.

On the same day as Hanif Mazrui’s arrest, the authorities arrested Sina Motalebi’s father, Saeed Motalebi, and threatened him with imprisonment if his son did not cease his expressive activities in the Netherlands.253 Sina Motalebi—who had departed for the Netherlands a year before—was running the news site, rooznegar.com, from exile.254 As acknowledged by Sina Motalebi, the arrest was a clever strategy:

One year after I was released, when I left the country [and] was living in the Netherlands, … they arrested my father, and kept him in jail for ten days. And, that was when I thought: ‘I cannot. I cannot pay this cost. I can accept whatever they want to do with me, but I cannot put this burden on my family.’255

Saeed Motalebi was released on October 20 and four days later charged with aiding the flight of a fugitive. His case was heard in November by Branch 1159 of the airport court. His lawyer reportedly argued that Sina Motalebi had left Iran legally, and Saeed Motalebi was apparently not convicted.256

Twenty days after Saeed Motalebi’s arrest, on September 27, 2004, Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, a journalist and blogger, was arrested at his home. Mirebrahimi was the editor of the political desk of Etemad and later the deputy editor of Jomhouriyat. Although he kept a blog, he never considered himself a blogger until he was labeled one by the authorities who arrested him.257 Over the course of several weeks, he had seen many of his colleagues arrested, but although friends and family advised him to leave Iran, he was determined to remain, as he had broken no laws.258

Amaken officers demanded entry into Mirebrahimi’s home and searched his belongings while he and his wife watched and waited.259 One of the officers presented them with a warrant:

It was 8 in the morning … I was in the bathroom when they rang the doorbell. My wife opened the door … When I got out of the bathroom, I saw that they were behind the house door … at first they said nothing. Then they said, “We have a few questions for you.” I said, “Where are you coming from? Do you have a warrant?” They said, “We are coming from the Prosecutor’s office.” My warrant was just a piece of paper. In fact, it was a piece of scrap paper that someone had folded over and scribbled something illegible in very bad handwriting on … There was no official seal or heading … The writing said something like go to this person’s house and take him to the detention center after searching the house.260

[250]RWB 2005 ANNUAL REPORT, supra note 241.
[251]UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES, CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS IN IRAN, SEPTEMBER 6, 2004 (2004), available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/43146ce24.html (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[252]Letter from Rajab Ali Mazrui, Head of the Journalist Union of Iran, to Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Dec.12, 2004) (on file with IHRDC) [hereinafter Mazrui Letter].
[253]Press Release, Reporters Without Borders, Detention of the father of journalist Sina Motallebi (Sept. 14, 2004), available at http://www.rsf.org/print.php3?id_article=11384 (last visited Apr. 25, 2009). Said Motalebi was reportedly threatened with becoming “another Pourzand,” a reference to Siamak Pourzand who has been imprisoned since 2003. See IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS DOCUMENTATION CENTER, MOCKERY OF JUSTICE: THE FRAMING OF SIAMAK POURZAND (2008), available at:http://iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/reports.htm.
[254]Press Release, Reporters Without Borders, supra note 253.
[255]Amnesty Event, supra note 3.
[256]Dadgah-i Pidar-i Sina Motalebi Tashkil Shud; Vakil-i Mudafi’: Ittiham-i “Farari Dadan-i Muttaham” dar Murid-i Muvakkilam Misdaq Nadarad [The Trial of Sina Motalebi’s Father Has Convened; The Defendant’s Lawyer: The Charge of “Aiding a Suspect’s Flight” is Baseless], ISNA, 26/8/1383 [Nov. 16, 2004], available at http://isna.ir/ISNA/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-456456 (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[257]Interview with Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, supra note 75.
[258]Id.
[259]Id.
[260]Id.

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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