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

Sigarchi was released the next evening, following more interrogation.316 Still, his short experience left him cowed, and he began carefully vetting his own writing.317 He was apprehensive about further arrests, and in particular, he feared that his newspaper would be shut down. He therefore limited his subject matter and reduced the number of articles he wrote.318

However, as the Presidential Commission was investigating abuses in Tehran, on January 7, 2005, Arash Sigarchi was once again summoned to appear by the judicial authorities in Gilan. His colleagues, family and friends had urged him to flee Iran, but he insisted that he had done nothing wrong and refused.319 At the judicial complex in Gilan, he was informed that his case had been assigned to Judge Eskandari who was the head of a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Gilan.320

Sigarchi immediately suspected that he was in serious trouble. Revolutionary courts are often much stricter and handle only those cases the regime considers the most serious. Also, he knew that Judge Eskandari was close to the intelligence community. After a short interrogation during which Eskandari tried to converse in French and English in an effort to establish that Sigarchi was a spy, Sigarchi asked to be tried in a press court and in front of a jury. His request was harshly refused and he was told to leave but to return the next day.321 The next morning he returned:

In the morning I went back to the court groomed and well-dressed. The court proceedings began. My charges were read one by one. I can’t remember what they all were because they never gave them to me in writing. I was charged with fourteen different crimes but ultimately was convicted of four. I remember that one was that I had insulted the Leader (Rahbar). They said that I had written in my blog that “Mr. Khamenei is going to drink the cup of poison just like Imam Khomeini drank the cup of poison. And just like Imam Khomeini died a year after that, Khamenei will also die a year later.” I corrected them and said, “I wrote in my blog and recommended to Mr. Khamenei that since the world has threatened Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear activities and war is looming, it is best to drink the cup of poison before it is too late.” But I never wrote “Just like Khomeini died a year after that, Khamenei will also die a year later.” He insisted that I had written what he said. I responded that if they had the documents to prove their position, I would willingly go to prison. He replied that they also had “other” charges against me.322

Sigarchi demanded to be represented by a lawyer. His request was refused and bail was set at two billion rials (US$225,000), a staggering amount. Judge Eskandari commented that if Sigarchi managed to pay it, that would be evidence of the involvement of a foreign government and grounds for detaining him.323

Unable to make bail, Sigarchi was imprisoned for two months. For the first two days, he was beaten without being asked a single question. His interrogation began on the third day.324 His treatment grew worse over the course of the next two weeks:

On the fifth day, they hung me from a fan. There was a pole attached to an engine on the ceiling that would propel me around the room. My arms were attached to another pole, as if I was on a cross. The two poles were connected. When the engine was turned on I literally became a human fan. On the sixth day, in the middle of the torture session, they told me that my mother was coming to visit. She came but it was a very short visit and I wasn’t allowed to talk. They threatened to torture me if I did. On the seventh day, they made me stand outside in the bitter cold for three hours. On the eighth day, they gave me a photocopy of Kayhan newspaper which read: “Arash S, who was collaborating with the CIA in the north of the country, is sentenced to [be] execut[ed].”
On the ninth day, I was taken to a room where the floor was covered with feces. Around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., they took me out to bathe and sent me back to my cell. I was there for 2-3 hours when they came in and bastinadoed the soles of my feet. On the tenth day, they took me to a room where there was a noose and a video camera. They told me that they would either execute me or film my confession. On the twelfth day, they pulled both of my big toe nails out. That same day, they imposed a form of torture that was literally called Jujih Kabab, or grilled chicken. They tied my wrist between my ankles and put a rod through it. Then they fastened my arms and legs to the rod and suspended me upside down.325

On February 7, 2005, Sigarchi was tried without the assistance of a lawyer before Judge Eskandari. He was sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment,326 though he was not informed of this sentence until four days later when his mother visited him in prison. He was released in late March while his appeal was pending. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to three years, which he began serving in January 2006. Nine months later, he was diagnosed with cancer and released on medical leave. He left Iran on January 10, 2008 to seek treatment in the United States, where he still resides.

 

[316]Id. ¶¶ 21-22. On the second day, he was no longer beaten and instead placed in a cell with air conditioning and served a meal of rice and kabob.
[317]Id. ¶ 24.
[318]Id. ¶¶ 24-25 (“Whereas before I would write ten pieces a month, I only wrote five during the next three months.”)
[319]Id. ¶ 32.
[320]Id. ¶ 28.
[321]Id. ¶¶ 30-31.
[322]Id. ¶ 33.
[323]Id. ¶ 43.
[324]Id. ¶ 44.
[325]Id. ¶ 45.
[326]Sigarchi was convicted under articles 508, 514, 500, 512, and 610. Id. ¶ 50.]

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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