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

Another student activist who was a member of the Iranian Political Prisoners Association (IPPA), Kianoosh Sanjari, was arrested on June 23, 2005. Sanjari had been arrested and detained numerous times because of his constant presence at demonstrations and protests.304 His first arrest was in July 2000 at the age of seventeen for participating in protests that commemorated the Tehran University dormitory demonstrations of the year before.305 He served nearly three months in prison. By the summer of 2005, Sanjari was an avid blogger who posted articles online about the condition of political prisoners. Only after he began this activity did he receive calls at his home in Tehran demanding that he turn himself in to the authorities. He refused to go.

On June 23, 2005, Sanjari was arrested at his home. He answered the door and immediately realized that the postman asking him for his identification was not a postman: “His face was vaguely familiar, like the faces I had seen [policing] demonstrations and during my time in prison.” Sanjari refused to let the man enter. Instead, he disposed of his hard drive and called a friend so she could listen in and witness the arrest. After failing to gain entry by pretending to be a postman, the authorities stormed the house:

Seven or eight of them … broke the door with a kick and came inside the house … The postman who was the leader of the team grabbed me by the collar and raised his fist to hit me. I told him that if he touched me I would say so in court and that they had just passed a law and that they had no right [to hit me]. [So instead] they threw my stuff around. My whole life, my cupboards, books, handwritten notes, CDs, computer, everything in all the nooks and crannies … was strewn on the floor and searched. [When] my mother arrived and saw the door was broken, she fainted and fell on the floor [as well]. 306

Sanjari was arrested based on a charge of threatening national security, but was later told during his interrogation that he was also arrested for the contents of his blog.307 On October 11, he posted 1 billion rials (US$112,000) in bail and was released.308 He now resides in the Washington, D.C. area.

4.2. Arrests Outside Tehran During the Reformist Era

The capital was not the only place where bloggers and cyber-journalists were arrested and harassed. In Qom, the largest center for Shi’a scholarship in the world, Mojtaba Lotfi, a journalist who had worked for the pro-reform newspaper Khordad before it was closed in 2000, posted an article entitled “Respect for Human Rights in Cases Involving the Clergy.”309 As a result, he was arrested in May 2004 and put on trial for spreading lies.310 Lotfi was a theology student and a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who still suffered from the effects of the chemical attacks he had endured during the war.311 Nonetheless, he was sentenced to three years and ten months’ imprisonment on August 14, 2004. He was released while his appeal was pending and after posting 650 million rials (US$75,000) in bail. However, his conviction was upheld and he was again imprisoned on February 5, 2005.312

Two weeks after Lotfi’s initial sentencing, on August 28, 2004, Arash Sigarchi, a journalist and editor-in-chief of Gilan-i Emrooz, was summoned, detained and beaten by intelligence agents in the northern province of Gilan.313 Sigarchi had begun blogging in March 2002 and quickly began using the new medium as a platform for dissemination of more sensitive news stories. The night before his arrest, Sigarchi had published an article on his blog discussing the 1988 prison massacre, a controversial and sensitive topic to the regime. The same night, using a pseudonym, he gave an interview to Radio Farda on demonstrations by laborers. Unbeknownst to him, due to a mistake at Radio Farda, his pseudonym was dropped during the rebroadcasting a few hours later.314 The following day, he was summoned to the provincial intelligence office in Gilan, and after several hours of waiting in the August heat, he was blindfolded and taken to the basement:

They slapped me around for about two hours and broke my glasses and watch. They splashed me with water and hit me some more—enough to make me cry. The beatings weren’t anything like what I had heard about before. They went on for three to four hours. I think it was around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. when a few people arrived, but I wasn’t able to see them. One of them said, “Is this him? He will be dealt with! We’ll make him talk; he has to say what the hell he’s been up to.”315

[304]Interview with Kianoosh Sanjari (Oct. 23-24, 2008).
[305]The student protests of July 1999 were the most extensive, widespread and violent public protests in Iran since the early days of the Iranian Revolution.
[306]Interview with Kianoosh Sanjari, supra note 304.
[308]Sanjari was again arrested and detained on October 8, 2006 due to his coverage of the arrest of a prominent dissident cleric Ayatollah Boroujerdi. Followers of the Ayatollah resisted the authorities during his arrest. The regime responded by sending in a massive force, surrounding the neighborhood and arresting a large number of people. Sanjari was one of those arrested. Interview with Kianoosh Sanjari, supra note 304.
[309]Lotfi published his post on Naqshineh, an electronic news site for Qom. FALSE FREEDOM, supra note 182, at 54.
[310]Press Release, Reporters Without Borders, Appeal court confirms prison for cyber-dissident while blogger is reimprisoned (Feb. 2, 2005), available at http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=12564 (last visited Apr. 26, 2009) [hereinafter Blogger is Reimprisoned].
[311]Imprisonment and Banishment for Mojtaba Lotfi, ROOZONLINE, December 3, 2008, available at http://www.roozonline.com/english/archives/2008/12/imprisonment_and_banishment_fo.html (last visited Apr. 26, 2009).
[312]Blogger is Reimprisoned, supra note 310. Lotfi was released again in August 2005, due to medical issues stemming from his exposure to chemical weapons. FALSE FREEDOM, supra note 182, at 54. Lotfi remained active after his release. In October 2008, he was once again detained by security forces and held at a detention center run by the Ministry of Intelligence in the city of Qom for fifty days. This arrest came in response to his Internet activities in support of Ayatollah Montezari. On December 10, 2008, Qom’s special court for the clergy sentenced Lotfi to four years’ imprisonment and five years’ banishment from expressive activity. He is currently serving this sentence. Imprisonment and Banishment for Mojtaba Lotfi, supra note 311.
[313]Witness Statement of Sigarchi, supra note 59, ¶¶ 13-17.
[314]Id. ¶¶ 11-13.
[315]Id. ¶ 18.

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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