Iran: Detained internet entrepreneur must be released

Iran: Detained internet entrepreneur must be released - Protection

ARTICLE 19 urges the Iranian government to immediately release Arash Zad who is being arbitrarily detained. After one month of detention, ARTICLE 19 is concerned that charges against him, the reason for his arrest, and even his location remain unknown.  

ARTICLE 19 fears that the reasons for Zad’s arbitrary detention, a prominent Internet entrepreneur, are linked to new efforts by the authorities to control the internet, and its increasing number of technology innovators, in a manner which restricts the rights of those that exercise their right to free expression, whether online or offline.

Arash Azad was arrested on 1 August 2015 in Teheran’s Imam Khomeini airport, while boarding a plane to Istanbul, where he lives, after a trip to Iran.

“The detention of Arash Azad, without charge, without access to legal counsel, and in an unknown location is unacceptable: Iran must immediately desist from its use of arbitrary detention as a means of suppressing free expression, online and offline,” commented Thomas Hughes, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.

The authorities have neither confirmed nor denied Zad’s detention. Zad’s arrest is the latest in a wave of arrests and crackdowns on Iran’s growing online community. Many internet activist believe that his detention is linked to new efforts by Iranian authorities to control the internet, online activity and its increasing number of technology innovators.

“Protecting freedom of expression online is absolutely crucial to maintaining the space for dissent: to threaten or punish online expression constitutes a major and unacceptable threat to the right to freedom of expression in Iran,’ added Hughes.

ARTICLE 19 fears that the arbitrary arrest of Zad, together with other internet activists, not only will have a chilling effect on those that want to exercise their right to free expression, but as well will increase tension and fear amongst Iran’s internet technology innovators as to the limits set for them, and the dangers they may face.

Arbitrary detention continues to be the one of the Iranian government’s primary tools to suppress freedom of expression, online activity, and the free flow of information. Prison conditions –including frequent use of torture and ill-treatment – and legal procedures which fall far short of international standards add to the danger faced by those exercising their right to free expression, both online and offline.

Iran is, by its own acknowledgement, bound by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, however reports suggest that Zad was arrested without legal basis, and has not been allowed access to legal counsel, contrary to Iran’s international commitments to fair trial standards and reflects a abuse of Iran’s own legal framework.

Arash Zad’s Background

Arash Zad is deemed one of Iran’s most innovative internet entrepreneurs. He is the Persian-language editor of the highly popular website Weblogina, and is the director of Zigzag Lab which hosts the award winning start-up project Ladybug. Zad had also attended the international conference iBridges which focused on the technology entrepreneurship in Iran.

His latest project that had not been launched, aimed at equipping older people with knowledge about new communication tools and how to use secure communications. According to IranWire, “the idea was a response to the extensive exodus of journalists and activists from Iran and the difficulties that their families encounter when they want to communicate with them.” Such tools and projects would raise concerns in Iran’s security forces who routinely attempt to monitor communications of Iranian’s inside and outside Iran.

There is much speculation as to whether Zad’s projects were the cause of his arrest, or whether it was due to the contacts he has made during his time working at an international level, who may be deemed as “security risks” by the Iranian authorities.

Concern Amongst Iran’s Technology Innovators and Internet Activists

Nariman Gharib – a researcher on internet freedom– tweeted that since the arrest of Zad, his contacts had received numerous phishing emails. On one occasion, Gharib was approached online by someone posing to be Zad. Gharib has since released the contents of the conversation. Whether Zad’s arrest is an attempt to gather further intelligence on Zad’s networks, in and outside Iran, remains unclear.

Although, under the administration of President Rouhani, efforts have been made to encourage the internet startups and technological innovation, arrests and clampdown on Iran cyberspace have increased. This arrest is reminiscent of the arrest of employees of a technology website, Narenji , in 2013 who were later charged with cooperating with “foreign networks”. With Zad’s arrest, tension and worry increases amongst Iran’s internet technology innovators as to the limits set for them, and the dangers they may face.

ARTICLE 19’s latest report looks at how Iran’s online users can avoid risky behaviours that may threaten their safety.

Read ARTICLE 19’s Report on risky online behaviour.

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