January 31, 2012

Bloggers, journalists and web users arrested in Iran


Parastoo Dokouhaki

Just over a month before the election in Iran, the world’s media is beginning to weigh in on a fresh wave of arrests of bloggers, journalists and web users in the country—though of course these remain unreported in Iran’s official media outlets. Among the most recent arrests were two prominent women: Parastoo Dokouhaki, a women’s rights campaigner and blogger who wrote for the now-banned Zanan monthly, and Marzieh Rasouli, an award-winning journalist writing on cultural affairs including music and publishing. Both women were arrested at their homes, Dokouhaki on 15th January and Rasouli on 17th, after their properties were searched and writing and computer equipment confiscated. Also arrested on 17th January was photojournalist Sahamoddin Bourghani, while 7th January saw the arrests of journalist and sociologist Saeed Madani and photographer Payman Houshmand Zadeh.

Friends of Dokouhaki and Rasouli have set up the website Free Parastou and Marzieh, to give updates about their situation and archive and publicise the worldwide media response.

As this New York Times report points out, none of the journalists arrested have been active in political writing lately:

Ms. Dokouhaki’s last blog post, on Dec. 31, for example, was an emotional narrative about her inability to cope with the death of her father. According to Mr. Ghaemi, Ms. Rasouli “was never politically active and never wrote about political affairs.”

Some speculated that they were arrested because they knew how to navigate their way around the Internet and to transmit information to their circles of friends abroad.

To be active online in Iran is to risk your freedom and your life: Reporters Without Borders noted earlier this month that since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s disputed reelection in June 2009 ’More than 100 bloggers have been arrested and given sentences ranging from one to 20 years in prison in a paranoid response to the “soft war” waged by “Iran’s enemies.”‘ After the arrests of several ‘netizens’ on 7th January this year, ’intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi said they had “envisaged carrying out American plans to disrupt the parliamentary elections by using cyber-space and social networks.”‘ And in January 2011, IT student Vahid Asghari and web designer Saeed Malekpour were put to death, the former for ‘hosting obscene and blasphemous websites’ and the latter ‘on charges of anti-government agitation and insulting Islam’.

As well as imprisoning and murdering specific individuals and harassing their families, the Iranian authorities have launched a blanket attack on net freedoms, as reported in The Guardian at the beginning of this year:

Tests for a countrywide network aimed at substituting services run through the world wide web have been carried out by Iran’s ministry of information and communication technology, according to a newspaper report. The move has prompted fears among its online community that Iran intends to withdraw from the global internet.

The police this week imposed tighter regulations on internet cafes. Cafe owners have been given a two-week ultimatum to adopt rules requiring them to check the identity cards of their customers before providing services.

“Internet cafes are required to write down the forename, surname, name of the father, national identification number, postcode and telephone number of each customer,” said an Iranian police statement, according to the news website Tabnak.

“Besides the personal information, they must maintain other information of the customer such as the date and the time of using the internet and the IP address, and the addresses of the websites visited. They should keep these informations for each individuals for at least six months.”


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.