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[liberationtech] [SPAM:###] Iran Arrests 16 in New Crackdown on Internet Freedom

Amin Sabeti aminsabeti at
Thu Dec 5 11:06:21 PST 2013

While Rouhani and his team have claimed they will open doors of the internet to the Iranian people, but evidences show the fact is totally different.

Despite lofty promises of more liberty, the crackdown on Internet freedomcontinues in Iran. However, this time, the victims aren't websites or encryption services — they're real people.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard arrested 16 cyber activists and journalists this week. The group is accused of working against the country's national security, having ties with foreign "enemy media" and designing anti-regime websites, according to Fars News and Mehr News, both press agencies believed to have close ties with the Iranian government.

SEE ALSO: The New Website That Makes the Case for Iran's Nuclear Energy Program

A person close to one of the activists arrested said he was "surprised" and "shocked."

The source, who would only speak toMashable anonymously for fear of reprisals, said the government was asking for 250 million Tomans (more than $80,000) for their release.

The first wave of arrests was reported on Tuesday, when popular Iranian technology news website Narenjiannounced that seven of its staffers had been detained the day before. A few hours later, the announcement was reportedly taken down.

On Wednesday, the Deputy General Prosecutor for the southeastern province of Kerman confirmed the arrests to Fars News, saying 16 people in total had been detained. But not all of them are affiliated with Narenji, and two were released on Thursday, according to sources.

This is the latest in a long string of incidents that seem to run contrary to President Hassan Rouhani's promises of easing restriction on free speech and Internet freedom.

But observers point that there is internal tension in the Iranian government.

While Rouhani and his staff preach for more freedom and use social media siteslike Twitter and Facebook — both of which are still blocked in Iran — insiders close to Supreme Leader Ali Khameneicall them out for using those social networks, and carry out arrests like these.

"It seems the hardliners inside Iran are against such changes," Nariman Gharib, an Iranian researcher based in London, told Mashable. "And by attacking an independent and a popular website like and connecting it to 'foreign media,' they want to push back against Rouhani and show their disapproval of his attempt to ease the restrictions on the Internet in Iran."

Among the 16, a group of "young specialists in new media" — Ali Asghar Hormand, Abass Vahedi, Alireza Vaziri, Nassim Nikmehr, Malieh Nakehi, Mohammad Hossien Mossazadeh and Sara Sajad Pour — had their homes searched and personal belongings removed before being arrested and taken to an unknown location, according toReporters Without Borders.

However this latest wave of arrests is not just about the people, warns Gharib, who left Iran in 2011. Arresting journalists and activists sends a chilling message to other Iranians, especially bloggers.

"Such incident can have far more reaching impact on Iran’s independent media beyond a single website," Gharib said. "It can lead to widespread fear amongst Iranian bloggers and techies who will not feel safe any longer, especially at the time that they were thinking the situation will improve by the election of Rouhani."

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