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

The officers arrested Mirabrahimi and told his wife that he would be released soon, after he was asked a few questions.261 As in the case of Rafizadeh, Mirebrahimi was initially driven to the Amaken office. There, he was transferred to a van with tinted windows, blindfolded and restrained with zip tie handcuffs. His head was shoved down below the seat for the 20-minute drive, and after his arrival, he was stripped naked and processed wearing only a blindfold. In fact, he would remain blindfolded for the sixty days he was in custody, except when he was in his unlit cell or in the bathroom.262

Initially, Mirebrahimi faced interrogation intended to force confessions of moral crimes such as adultery and illicit affairs. Any noncompliance was met with fists, kicks or ramming his head against the wall.

I was sent to my cell … I think it was around 12 noon. I opened my blindfold to see where I was. Less than a minute had passed when the cell door opened and someone said, “Close your eyes! Are you blindfolded?” I said OK and blindfolded myself … he took me out of the cell and into the interrogation room. I mean this is one of their techniques that they won’t even allow you to find your way around in your new place … I sat down waiting for the interrogator. … The guy said, “Write the answer to whatever I write,” and wrote on the paper: “Write down your entire illicit affairs.” I moved the blindfold high enough to be able to write and wrote I have not had any illicit affairs. He asked me to get up, and I did. As soon as I got up he slapped me hard … and said, “You are lying.” I said that there was nothing to lie about. He slapped me around a little more and then ordered me to sit. He wrote again: Write down your entire illicit affairs and I wrote that I have not had any illicit affairs … He again asked me to get up and hit me in my stomach and chest with a few kicks and punches that threw me against the wall … so he kept hitting me and writing the same question and I kept giving the same response ... This went on until 9 pm that night.263

After resisting for a week, Mirebrahimi agreed to write in short sentences that he had indeed had illicit affairs. This was insufficient for his interrogators, and he was ordered to identify coworkers and in particular, to provide a detailed account of an alleged illicit relationship he had with Fereshteh Ghazi, a fellow journalist. The level of detail demanded by his interrogators began to embarrass Mirebrahimi. Eventually, his role was reduced to that of a scribe writing down the explicit scenarios dictated by his interrogators.264

At the end of September 2004, the state news outlet Kayhan published the religious opinions of several high-ranking clerics who insisted that unethical and unreligious websites are taboo and should be filtered.265 This was followed by an editorial by Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of Kayhan, regarding what he considered the pernicious network made up of Internet journalists and bloggers.266 Directly appointed by the Supreme Leader of Iran to head the Kayhan Institute, Shariatmadari represents the most conservative elements of the government. At the time, Hossein Derakhshan, the blogger who had explained how to set up Persian language blogs, was waging an online campaign to stop Internet censorship in Iran. He noted on his blog that

[b]ased on previous experiences, Kayhan always illustrates the whole picture after each of these scenarios gets started by several arrests. So we all should be worried about the fate of the young innocent journalists that, probably just for bad luck, have been fitted into this desperate scenario that tries to find the CIA's hand behind the entire politically active part of the Persian Internet.267

Titled The Spider House,268 Shariatmadari’s editorial set out a conceptual framework for the vilification of cyber-journalists and bloggers, and laid the groundwork for justifying and legitimizing the regime’s efforts to silence them. Shariatmadari’s main points were as follows:

• Bloggers and journalists are part of an international, foreign-supported network designed to attack the Islamic Republic’s government. This network has an “American identity but Iranian identity card.”
• Its command center is in the U.S., aided by European offices.
• The network attacks through websites, newspapers, and “extremist” groups “that claim to be reformist … as well as their people in government.” Emrooz and Gooya are the two main websites involved.• Using blogs and chat rooms, the internal members of the network seduce innocent young people and introduce them to prostitution houses and other places of decadence.
• Participants in Iran, directed by outside decision-makers, write about particular subjects. Foreign news agencies, picking up on those reports, then launch criticism and attacks on the Islamic Republic’s government, its top officials, and Islam. Some of these participants in Iran are “youngsters in search of fame” who were lured by a promise of high-ranking posts after overthrow of the regime or by the promise of free education in the European or American countries; others are more deliberately involved.
• Some of these sites cannot be filtered.269

[261]Roozbeh Mirebrahimi Bazdasht Shud [Roozbeh Mirebrahimi Has Been Arrested], ISNA, 6/7/1383 [Sept. 27, 2004], available at http://isna.ir/ISNA/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-436208 (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[262]Interview with Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, supra note 75.
[265]Posting of Hossein Derakhshan to Stop Censoring Us, available at http://stop.censoring.us/archives/2004_09.php (Sept. 26, 2004) (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[266]Hossein Shariatmadari, Yaddasht-i Ruz: Khanihyyih Ankabut [Daily Note: The Spider House], KAYHAN, 8/7/1383 [Sept. 29, 2004], available at http://blog.gooya.com/archives/000108.php (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[267]Posting of Hossein Derakhshan to Editor: Myself, available at http://hoder.com/weblog/archives/012304.shtml (Sept. 29, 2004) (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[268]The title references verse 41 of the Qur’an (“The Spider”), which warns that “those who take guardians besides Allah” are like “the spider that makes for itself a house; and most surely the frailest of the houses is the spider’s house.” QUR’AN 29:41, (translation) available at http://www.seyed.com/quran2/029ankab.htm (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[269]Shariatmadari, supra note 266.

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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