Iran: Arrests and intimidation of Telegram administrators and journalists ahead of elections

ARTICLE 19 is concerned at the increasing crackdown against citizens using online platforms just two months before the presidential elections to be held on 19 May 2017.

The recent arrests and intimidation of administrators and journalists using the social media platform Telegram, risks silencing citizens who seek to exercise their right to expression and information during the election process.

“These arrests are extremely concerning, and indicate a purposeful restriction of the media space in the lead up to the May Presidential Elections. We especially urge the Iranian government to ensure all political voices have the platform to publish, share and receive information online without repercussions,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, a hardline wing of Iran’s armed forces, accountable to the office of the Supreme Leader, arrested 12 administrators of channels supporting the reformist political faction and the moderate President Hassan Rouhani. These arrests occurred early Tuesday 14 March, 2017, almost two months before the President elections.

Telegram gained notability during the 2016 Parliamentary elections, as a platform that aided significant gains for reformist and moderate members of parliament. The Revolutionary Guards have previously attempted to limit the free flow of information through Telegram, by pursuing arrests related to immoral or obscene content.  However, this is the first time crackdowns have focussed explicitly on political affiliation.

The Telegram channels affected by the crackdown include Eslahtalaban News, Eslahaat News, Majmeye Eslahtalaban and Haamiyan Dolat amongst them.

Sources indicate these channels have either been deleted from Telegram and/or have not published anything since the arrests. Two individuals have so far been identified as the arrested administrators; Saeed Naghdy and Ali Ahmadian, both associated with reformist media and the administration of reformist channels. Ahmadian is believed to have run the Eslahaat News channel.

Crackdowns on press freedom and freedom of expression leading up to the May 2017 Presidential elections are noticeable outside the digital sphere. Reformist journalists such as Ehsan Mazandarani and Hengameh Shahidi are amongst those most recently arrested for their independent and critical reporting.

Ehsan Mazandarani, who was recently released from prison was re-arrested on Sunday by the intelligence units of the Revolutionary Guards at this home. The Prosecutor of Tehran said the reason for his re-arrest was the time that remained to be served for previous charges that required him to serve two years. However his wife and lawyer produced documents that proved Mazandarani had completed the two years and was released on the 11 February 2017.

Mazandarani told his family that he is on a dry hunger strike and some of his relatives were posting on social media that his wife Malihe Hosseini was fired from Farikhtegan Newspaper on Wednesday following his arrest.

“Citizens have a right to know and be informed of all political views ahead of this major election,” added Thomas Hughes. “We find these arrests especially unacceptable during the period of the Nowruz holidays, when government is not in session, and due process is not upheld in the run-up to the May 2017 Presidential elections”.