Forced Confessions: Targeting Iran's Cyber-Journalists
This publication is a compilation of witness statements by three Iranian bloggers and cyber-journalists who were arrested and detained by the Iranian government in 2004 and 2005. The witness statements are the results of interviews conducted by IHRDC staff in 2008 and 2009. Two of the journalists—Roozbeh Mirebrahimi and Omid Memarian—were active cyber-journalists residing in and around Tehran at the time of their arrests. The third witness—Arash Sigarchi—was the Editor-in-Chief of Gilan-e Emrooz in the northern Iranian city of Rasht. They were charged with (and convicted of) moral, press, and national security crimes. The statements describe, in detail, the journalists’ arrests, detention, torture, forced confessions and eventual convictions.
Table of Contents
Witness Statement of Roozbeh Mirebrahimi
Witness Statement of Omid Memarian
Witness Statement of Arash Sigarchi
In these statements, three Iranian cyber-journalists describe, in detail, their harrowing experiences of being illegally arrested, detained, tortured and eventually convicted by the Iranian regime during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami. Two of the journalists—Roozbeh Mirebrahimi and Omid Memarian—were active cyber-journalists residing in and around Tehran at the time of their arrests. Mirebrahimi, who was affiliated with publications such as Etemad and Jomhuriyat, was arrested on September 27, 2004. He spent the following two months in detention. Memarian was arrested on October 10, 2004, and was released a little more than a month and a half later. Both cyber-journalists spent time in illegal detention facilities operated by Iran’s Parallel Intelligence Apparatus, followed by imprisonment in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison. The third witness—Arash Sigarchi—was the Editor-in-Chief of Gilan-e Emrooz in the northern Iranian city of Rasht. He was arrested on January 8, 2005, and spent the following two months in detention.
Despite guarantees under international and Iranian law that those charged with press-related crimes are to be tried in public and before a jury, none of these journalists were ever tried in open court. They were charged with (and convicted of) moral, press, and national security crimes. Mirebrahimi and Memarian were found guilty in abstentia, and sentenced on February 4, 2009. Mirebrahimi was sentenced to two years, two days in prison and eighty-four lashes, and Memarian was sentenced to two years, six months in prison and ten lashes. Sigarchi was initially sentenced to 14 years in prison, but his sentence was later reduced to three years on appeal.
The convictions of these cyber-journalists were primarily based on their confessions that were obtained through the use of extreme physical and psychological pressure, including regular beatings, unlawful interrogations, and solitary confinement. While detained, they were denied access to legal representation, family visits and the most basic accommodations. Mirebrahimi and Memarian were only released after agreeing to participate in an elaborate scheme concocted by Tehran’s Chief Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi (also known as the “Butcher of the Press”). Pursuant to the scheme, Mirebrahimi was released and agreed to write a confession letter and present it to media outlets for publication. Once the letter was published, Mortazavi allowed the release of Memarian and another cyber-journalist. Mortazavi’s goal was clearly to discredit the reform movement and clamp down on cyber-journalists and bloggers who were increasingly relying on the Internet as an alternate media outlet.
The experiences of these journalists were not unique. In conjunction with the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center’s reports Ctrl+Al+Delete: Iran’s Response to the Internet (May 2009) and Covert Terror: Iran’s Parallel Intelligence Apparatus (April 2009), these statements expose a network of Iranian government actors—including members of the security and parallel intelligence forces, the Judiciary, and state-run media outlets such as Kayhan newspaper and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting—responsible for silencing voices of dissent in cyberspace.