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Tech Journos in Iran Arrested For "Contact With Foreign Media," Among Other Charges

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, December 10 2013

Screenshot of video of a state TV broadcast

In the past three weeks 24 journalists, bloggers and technologists at online media companies have been arrested by Iran's elite force of revolutionary guards. Yesterday, some of those arrested appeared on state television, handcuffed and with their faces to the wall, obscuring their identity.

On December 3 the technology news website Narenji reported seven employees, both journalists and support staff, had been arrested for “unknown” reasons the day before in the southern city of Kerman. The message was taken down just a few hours later.

On December 4 the Kerman city prosecutor confirmed the arrest of “16 cyber-activists,” reports Reporters Without Borders, the organization that counted at least 24 arrests.

In November, seven men and women were also arrested for “insulting society's sacred beliefs and Islamic values online." The public prosecutor in Rafsanjan added: "The intelligence services are monitoring the Internet with great care and are cracking on all possible violations."

A darkly humorous headline on Global Voices Online about the Narenji arrests read: “Seditious iPhone Reviews? Iran Arrests 7 from Tech News Site.” The article goes on to say that, although the “Islamic Republic has a long record of repressing digital freedoms. . . the mass arrest of people writing about gadgets and technology, can be considered a new chapter.”

The television broadcast elucidated the charges against the men and women, but whether those charges are deserved is a hotly contested matter.

A judiciary official claimed that the handcuffed men shown in the video (although not identified):

have been in contact with and funded by “espionage networks,” charged with “offering reporter training seminars in Turkey and Malaysia,” “internet activities aiming for a ‘soft overthrow’ of the Iranian regime,” and “contact with foreign media, including the BBC.”

An anonymous source close to the Narenji website staff told the International Campaign for Human Rights that he “believe[s] the government’s cynicism about contact outside of Iran and the accusation of ‘cooperating with the BBC’ are only to intimidate all those in the online environment, especially those who follow the latest international developments and who need to be in touch with the outside world.”

Happy International Human Rights Day, everyone.

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