Iran Determined to Impose Total Information Blackout to Stifle Dissent

February 28, 2012

Saeed Malekpour
Saeed Malekpour

Noted blogger Mehdi Khazali knew he was in trouble with the Iranian government. He had already been arrested in the summer of 2009 and again in October 2010, and was facing pending charges from those arrests.

Nevertheless, he decided to openly express his opinion, urging a boycott of Iran’s upcoming March 2, 2012 parliamentary elections as a gesture of protest.

For that, Mehdi Khazali suffered the full brunt of the Iranian authorities’ fury. On January 9, 2012 security forces came to arrest him. They brutally beat him, breaking his arm.

He has been detained since then, apparently not receiving proper medical attention for his injuries. He has reportedly spent most of that time in detention on a hunger strike, and his family says he is poor condition.

Compounding his misery was the sentence imposed on him in February 2012 by Branch 26 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, on charges stemming from his earlier arrests including  “spreading propaganda against the system,” “gathering and colluding against national security,” and “insulting officials.” He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, to be followed by ten years in “internal exile”—very possibly also to be served in a prison.

Mehdi Khazali is just one of the cases highlighted in Amnesty International’s new report on Iran, We are ordered to crush you: Expanding Repression of Dissent in Iran. The report details the alarming uptick in the Iranian government’s efforts to stifle all forms of dissent, in the run-up to Iran’s parliamentary elections. In particular, the authorities have issued new regulations and unleashed a new “cyberarmy” to cut off people’s access to information by jamming the Internet, hacking into Iranians’ Gmail accounts, requiring owners of cybercafés to report their customers’ internet usage to the authorities, and even by implementing a plan to prevent Iranians from accessing the worldwide Web altogether and to replace it with a government-controlled internet.

Restricting access to information is one piece of the Iranian authorities’ two-pronged effort to impose a total information blackout on its people. Anyone who dares to publicly express a thought that in any way contradicts the government’s hard line can expect excessively harsh punishment.

One extreme example is that of Saeed Malekpour, a Web programmer and Iranian citizen who had been residing in Canada. He went to Iran to visit relatives and was arrested in October 2008. Held for a year in solitary confinement, he was subjected to brutal torture and forced to make a “confession” that was aired on Iranian television. He was sentenced to death in October 2010 and again in October 2011. The death sentence was upheld in January 2012 and he is imminent danger of being executed at any time. His crime? Saeed Malekpour had designed a program to upload photos to the Internet. Someone else had used his program to upload pictures considered by Iranian authorities to be “pornographic.”

A 2009 law on so-called “Cyber Crimes” permits the authorities to sentence people like Saeed Malekpour to death. Certainly the harsh sentence imposed on him is meant to frighten Iranians into silence.

Despite the enormous risks to themselves and their families, courageous human rights defenders, civil society activists, women’s activists, labor activists, and student leaders all continue to speak out—some of them even writing letters from their prison cells where they suffer under brutal conditions. The new Amnesty International Iran report tells many of their inspirational stories. Amnesty International encourages activists who care about freedom of expression everywhere to use this report to express their outrage against the Iranian government’s unrelenting assault on freedom of speech — this most basic human right.