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A New Era for Iran’s Conservative Bloggers: Filtering, Detention, Prison

The western media and scholarly community propagate the myth that conservative bloggers are completely supported by the Iranian government, but the reality is that many who comprise this subsector of Iranian cyberspace have also been under intense pressure for their online activities.

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  1. This report highlights an extreme example of a crackdown on a conservative blogger, which rebuts the common assumption that conservative commentators in Iranian cyberspace are free to do as they please without repercussion.

    On 14 July 2012, Amir Hassan Sagha published a post on his blog accusing Sadegh Larijani, the head of Iran’s Judiciary, and his brother Ali Larijani, the parliamentary speaker, of abusing their political power and silencing opponents. Two days after the post was published, Sagha was arrested and his blog closed down. At the time of writing, the message that appears when attempting to access his domain states, “This account has been suspended. Either the domain has been overused, or the reseller ran out of resources.”
  2. As the news spread throughout the webosphere, some top conservative cyber activists reacted. Mohammad Saleh Meftah, the founder of the conservative news and analysis website Teribon, posted about Sagha’s detention on Google+: “Amir Hassan Sagha has also been arrested because of Larijani. The plot thickens”. Meftah then proceeded to list the other conservative bloggers who have been affected by political tensions amongst those supporting the different factions of the regime.
  3. 1. Hossein Ghadiani’s critical letter caused his blog to be shut down, him to be detained overnight, and many of the blogs who re-published his letter against [Sadegh] Larijani to be filtered. For instance, Iranian Muslim Photographer and Ta-amolat (Contemplation) were blocked. Dr. Majid Bazrafkan, the author of Ta-amolat, was sentenced to 3 months and 1 day in prison for criticising Larijani and the other’s case is still open.

    2. Amir Hossein Sabeti, who published a critical post about parliament and [Ali] Larijani, was sentenced to 3 months and 1 day imprisonment, but [the case] has been suspended for two years.

    3. Former Rajanews editor Hassan Rozitalab was prosecuted for publishing a post on his blog in which he called the Larijanis [all the brothers] dictators.

    4. Rajanews Director, Meysam Nili, was arrested following Ali Larijani’s complaint about the publication of articles criticising him [on Rajanews’ website].

    5. Iranian University Students News website was blocked for one month because of a critical post it published about Ali Larijani.

    6. Students of Masumieh Howza wrote a letter to the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom (SSTQ), blaming SSTQ for selecting Ali Larijani to be their candidate [for the 9th  parliamentary elections]. These students subsequently removed the letter from the website after being pressured [by Larijani]. All websites and blogs that had re-published the letter, such as 598, BiBak News and Serat News, have been blocked and their cases remain open.

    7. 9 Dey Weekly Newspaper’s political editor wrote an article criticising [Ali] Larijani. He was placed under arrest for one week and all websites that re-published the article were blocked. Hezar Sangar (Fortress) was among these blocked websites.

    8. Teribon Mostazafin [Meftah’s own website] was blocked for two months due to its publication of an article that criticised the Judicial System’s reaction to [Ali] Larijani opponents.

    9. Narenjak (Hand Grenade) and Jolbak Setiz (Anti-Green Movement) were blocked due to posts criticising [Ali] Larijani; their cases are currently being reviewed by the Judiciary [reminder: Ali’s brother Sadegh is the head of the judiciary].  

    10. Amir Hassan Looti Sagha [mentioned above] was arrested because of a particular sensitivity regarding the Larijani brothers and his blog was shut down. There hasn’t been any news about him [so far].

    11. Alef [website], which belongs to [conservative MP] Ahmad Tavakkoli, has called upon the Larijani brothers to exercise more tolerance, considering they hold two of the most powerful positions [in Iran’s political structure]. A few days later, Alef was blocked by the Attorney General.
  4. Meftah concluded his post saying, “This story continues.” He then posted an image showing the five Larijani brothers (L-R): Mohammad Javad Larijani, Fazel Larijani, Ali Larijani, Sadegh Larijani and Bagher Larijani.
  5. Ultra-conservative blogger Mojtaba Daneshtalab published a post criticising the reaction of conservative bloggers and politicians to the arrest of conservative cyber-activists. Daneshtalab believes that the biggest problem facing conservative activists is that they tend to defend the regime without thinking about the implications: “Defending the regime’s performance in a conservative way, and not based on any ideological principles, will become an obsession; meaning that any mistake by the regime will be justified. And [it should be said that] any objection to the decisions [made by the regime] will make the enemy happy”.

    Zahra HB is another conservative blogger who posted a reaction to the news about Sagha’s detention. She discussed internet censorship and the crackdown on Hezbollahi/Basiji and conservative activists, arguing that the method of internet censorship is flawed: “For the sake of argument, I, Zahra HB, disagree with 90% of the content in Persian cyberspace, however, except for anti-religious and pornographic websites, I cannot find any reason for filtering the content and authors of other websites”.

    At the end of her post, Zahra HB concluded that criticism has become a crime in Iran: “The story so far shows that we should assume criticism to be a crime. A crime that when it is considered ‘moderate’, the punishment is blogs being blocked or purged from the internet and, when it is considered serious, the blog’s authors will be arrested. But where exactly are the red lines?”

    On 17 July 2012, more than 100 Basiji students from Tehran University signed an open letter to Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati Massah, the Chairman of the Guardian Council, asking him to resolve the tensions between conservative media activists and the Judiciary. They mentioned the names of 10 conservative and pro-government cyber activists who had been arrested or whose cases were pending.

    In conclusion, Small Media recognises that conservative bloggers and media activists are under immense pressure from both inside and outside Iran. Inside the country, their blogs and websites are being blocked by the authorities, and they risk arrest or imprisonment. Outside the country, many of them are accused of being spies for Iran or have been banned from travelling to countries such as the US and UK. This critical situation reveals the deep conflicts between the pro-Green Movement and the pro-government Iranian web have translated into intra-factional tensions. Among the conservative bloggers, increasingly vast chasms exist between those who support Ahmadinejad, those who support Larijani, and those who support others like Tavakoli.
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