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

In October 2004, in response to the rash of arrests, one speaker at a Journalists’ Union meeting advised that all journalists in Tehran should sign a power of attorney appointing a lawyer and leave it with their families in case of arrest. Another joked it would be better to leave behind a will.282 With tensions rising, Judiciary spokesperson Jamal Karimi-Rad met with the Union on November 2 and claimed that fifteen of those arrested had been arrested on security charges, and eight on charges relating to morality violations.283

In response to this announcement, the Journalists’ Union, headed by Hanif Mazrui’s father Rajab-Ali Mazrui, delivered a letter to the head of the Judiciary, Hashemi Shahroudi, warning that if the process of summoning, pursuing and detaining journalists and reporters continued, it would be devastating for the country.284 The letter also asked that the arrests and detentions be halted, and a committee be formed to regulate the relationship between the Judiciary and the Journalists’ Union.285 Undeterred, prosecutor Mortazavi cautioned the Union that its protests would not be tolerated. A month later, in a letter to the Union and Mazrui, he warned:

You are hereby informed that supporting individuals who have been convicted of espionage and acts of treachery against the country and who have confessed to acting against the law, and where evidence has been discovered and registered, and calling for a gathering, particularly at the Palace of Justice, in support of such criminals, falls under article 618 of the Islamic Penal Code.286 Therefore, should this gathering take place, it will only disturb social peace and order, and your Excellency and other elements responsible for the illegal invitation will be dealt with seriously and legally for disturbing public security.287

Prosecutor Mortazavi also offered a deal to those still in custody—Shahram Rafizadeh, Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, Javad Gholam Tamimi and Omid Memarian.288 Under the deal’s terms, they would be released one at a time in exchange for writing letters to the editor describing the humane treatment they enjoyed, the crimes they had committed, and acceptance that their actions were wrong and illegal. If the first blogger released refused to write such a letter and allow it to be published, none of the others would be released. The same would apply to the next person released until they were all free.289

Mirebrahimi was released first on November 25 and his letter to the editor was published five days later. Memarian was released on December 1, and Rafizadeh and Tamimi were released about a week later. They all published letters to the editor that described the good treatment they have received in detention and accepting responsibility for some of the crimes for which they were charged. They also apologized for causing so much trouble. Prosecutor Mortazavi publically claimed to be vindicated.290

However, in a December 12 letter to President Khatami, Rajab Ali Mazrui responded to the letters and described the abuses his son Hanif had suffered while detained.291

I would not have the will or determination to openly publish this letter if the Judiciary’s propaganda arm had not published letters allegedly written by imprisoned journalists in connection with the project to crack down on Internet sites. But the confusion caused by those who had a hand in this project and attempted to cover up their illegal, immoral and oppressive activities via the publishing of these confession letters left me no choice but to publish this letter. I hope that the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Tehran, which forced several newspapers to publish these confession letters, will also allow the publication of my letter without subjecting it to censorship. So that those who “seek truth and love justice” are exposed to an accurate portrayal of what happened to those who were detained in connection with the Internet sites project (despite all the smoke and mirrors).

He also described his futile efforts to visit his son while he had been detained. He described how he was told to visit the 9th District prosecutor’s office located at the airport judiciary facilities to post the bail for his son. There he noticed that none of the registration books of the Public Prosecutor’s office showed the names of the Internet-related detainees or prisoners, and that no case file or paperwork existed for them.292 He also reported to President Khatami that the Judiciary refused to identify the prison where his son was held, and claimed that the prison was illegal and operated outside the supervision of the State Prison Organization.293

[282]Frances Harrison, Protests Against Iran Blog Arrests, BBC, Oct. 21, 2004, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/376482.stm (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[283]Majlis Nimitavanad dar Umur-i Qaza’i va Ikhtiyarat-i Quvvihyyih Qaza’iyih Tahqiq va Tafahhus Kunad [Majlis Cannot Investigate and Scrutinize the Authority of the Judiciary], Fars News Agency, 12/8/1383 [Oct. 20, 2004], available at http://www.farsnews.net/newstext.php?nn=8308120169 (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[284]Namihyyih Sargushadyih Anjuman-i Sinfiyih Matbu’at bih Hashemi Shahroudi, Bamdad [Letter from the Head of the Journalists’ Union to Hashemi Shahroudi], GOOYA NEWS, 15/8/1383 [Nov. 5, 2004], available at http://akhbar.gooya.com/politics/archives/018516.php (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[286]Article 618 of the Penal Code deals with public disorder and disorderly conduct..
[287]Tajamu’i Anjuman-i Sinfiyih Ruznamihnigaran Qayr-i Qanuni Ast [The Journalist’s Union Gathering is Illegal], FARS NEWS AGENCY, 14/9/1383 [Dec. 4, 2004], available at http://www.farsnews.net/newstext.php?nn=8309140272 (last visited Apr. 25, 2009).
[288]Interview with Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, supra note 75.
[291]Mazrui Letter, supra note 252.

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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