Bloggers Demonised and Persecuted
Tuesday 22 September 2009
In addition to the political trials and arrests of hundreds of government opponents, repression in Iran is concentrating on Internet users. Reporters Without Borders has learned of the arrest last night of Ali Pirhasanlou, one of the first journalists to start blogging in Iran.
Pirhasanlou, who used to write for several, now closed, pro-reform newspapers and who blogs under the name of Alpar, was arrested together with his wife, Fatemeh Sotoudeh, at their home after it was searched by plain-clothes intelligence ministry agents. They are accused of “activity against national security.”
Other journalists and activists were arrested or were summoned for questioning by the intelligence services today, on the eve of more opposition demonstrations in Tehran.
“The Internet and its users have become the new targets for repression by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s supporters in the past two weeks,” Reporters Without Borders said. “After suspending newspapers, the authorities are attacking one of the easy ways to access information about arrests and protests in Iran.”
The press freedom organisation added: “All of Iran’s news websites are now threatened with termination. Some sites are the targets of organised hacking. Demonised by the public prosecutor during the ongoing Tehran political trials, the Internet continues to be a vehicle of mobilisation which the government is now trying to suppress.”
Noorooz (the site of the opposition Islamic Iran Participation Front), Parlemannews (the site of the pro-reform parliamentarians), Tagheer (a news website) and the feminist websites FeministSchool and We-Change have all suffered access blockages. We-Change’s blocking is the 20th since it was launched. Provincial news websites such as Kermannama.net (www.kermannama.net/) have also been blocked.
Reporters Without Borders is also concerned about Mohammad Pour Abdoullah, the editor of the blog Pishro (Avant-Garde), who was arrested on 12 January 2009 for writing about a crackdown on the student movement, prison conditions and the interrogation methods used by intelligence ministry agents.
He was kept in solitary confinement and subjected to constant pressure for 23 days after his arrest. As he refused to admit to the charges brought against him, he is still awaiting trial. An initial hearing was to have been held on 21 February, but the judge adjourned it indefinitely, without explanation. Thereafter, Abdoullah was moved to an individual cell and then to Ghezel Hessar, a prison for non-political detainees.
Abdoullah was arrested for the first time on 24 January 2008 and was freed 41 days later on payment of 800 million toman (720,000 euros) in bail. After this spell in prison for participating in a student demonstration, he wrote about the situation of imprisoned students in his articles. His family is worried about him and his lawyers do not understand why he has been singled out.