Iran: A Long and Painful Story of Jailed Bloggers

Iranian blogger and journalist, Omid Reza Mirsyafi, was sentenced [fa] to two and a half years of prison this week. He stands accused of insulting religious leaders, and engaging in propaganda against the Islamic Republic. Over the past 5 years, several bloggers in Iran have faced jail and persecution because of their blogs. Some were detained for a few days while others were condemned to several years.

Simon Columbus, a researcher studying the cases of jailed bloggers around the world (article forthcoming), estimates, in an email to me, that the number of Iranian bloggers who have been arrested solely for their blogging activities comes to about 20. He has counted a total of 30 Iranian bloggers who have been jailed for political activity, which may not be directly linked to their blogs.

Individual and collective arrests

Sina MotalebiSina Motalebi was the first Iranian blogger ever jailed. In April 2003, he was arrested by the intelligence division of law enforcement because of writings on on his weblog and elsewhere and interviews with foreign media. He spent 23 days in solitary confinement in a secret detention centre before he was released on bail. In December 2003, Sina left Iran for the Netherlands, where he sought asylum.

Between August and November 2004, judiciary agents operating on behalf of Tehran's chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, detained more than 20 bloggers and internet journalists. After their release some of the detainees testified before a presidential commission, detailing their mistreatment while in detention. Hanif Mazroi, Massoud Ghoreishi, Fereshteh Ghazi, Arash Naderpour and Mahbobeh Abasgholizadeh appeared in front of the commission on December 25, 2004. On January 1, 2005, Omid Memarian and Ruzbeh Mir Ebrahimi also provided accounts of their ill-treatment.

About his interrogators in prison, Memarian says, “they were people who only had the appearance of human beings” [Fa]. The blogger adds: “When I came out of prison, I said to myself, ‘Let's forget these people and not let them hurt my optimism,’ but the experience is still stuck in my memory. I still remember the guards’ whispers and the keys turning in my cell's doors.”

“All this for dogs!”

Reza Valizadeh, a journalist and blogger, was the object of a complaint from the Iranian president's office and was detained on November 2007. Several Iranian blogs and websites argue the main reason he was arrested was because he revealed that Ahmadinejad's security staff bought four dogs from Germany for about $150,000 each. He was released after a few weeks of detention.

No insults, please

Mojtaba Saminejad was initially arrested in November 2004. He was released on bail on January 27, 2005 but arrested again on February 12, 2005 because his bail fee was doubled and he was unable to pay it.

According to Saminejad's supporters, the reason for his arrest was that he blogged about the arrests of three other bloggers. According to official charges, Saminejad was suspected of having insulted the head of state of Iran (the Supreme Leader), of “endangering national security,” and of having “insulted the prophets.” He was found guilty and sentenced to two years and ten months’ imprisonment.

On June 28, 2005, Saminejad was found ‘not guilty’ of the charge of “insulting the prophets” (punishable by the death penalty). He was released a few months ago but still is under pressure today.

Detained for over a month

Where is Hoder?More than 40 days ago, reports surfaced that Hossein Derakhshan (also known as Hoder), a famed Iranian blogger, was arrested in Tehran. The reasons for his arrest are unclear, but some speculate that his two (highly publicised) trips to Israel were the main reason.

Blogger Z8tun says other Iranians have been caught visiting Israel, but were released after a few hours of interrogation. Some speculate that Derakhshan who in recent years became a supporter of President Ahmadinejad's government, was arrested because he insulted some religious leaders in the country. He has himself argued in Western media, despite multiple testimonies of jailed bloggers, that nobody goes to jail in Iran because of the content of their blog. There is a Free Hoder facebook page campaigning for his release.

Please read more in “Iranian Bloggers Talk About Their Prison Experience“.

Image of Mojtaba Saminejad from Wikimedia Commons

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