Iran Determined to Impose Total Information Blackout to Stifle Dissent

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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.

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8 thoughts on “Iran Determined to Impose Total Information Blackout to Stifle Dissent

  1. Lots of stuff about Iran, Turkey, etc., but no problems with how Israel treats Palestinians. Why is that?

  2. The really frightening thing about this is that with legislation like NDAA (and other similar initiatives in many other “western” countries) we will very soon stop worrying about the developments in Iran…

  3. I am a longtime supporter of A.I. and am–of course–concerned about oppressive conditions inside Iran. It is important, I think, to remind people that present day Iran came about as a result of a U.K./U.S. engineered coup in 1953. The people of Iran remember the 26 years of brutal oppression which followed and regard the current saber-rattling as still more evidence of American/European interference in their business. An attack on Iran will rally the people around their government and further entrench rule by Ayatollah. I don't think this is a good time to further demonize the rulers of Iran; we need to be all about preventing a war–the consequences of which would be horrendous for tens of thousands of innocent people. This is a good report on Iran, but it should be written in historical context.

  4. Lon,

    Amnesty Int’l, including the U.S. section of Amnesty Int’l, works on our concerns in regards to Israel/OPT/PA every single day as well as the other countries in the region. Please refer to http://www.amnestyusa.org country page on Israel and the OPT or the PA page for information and actions. Or, you can refer to the international org’s website at http://www.amnesty.org.

    If you click on my name, you’ll see blogs I’ve written as our section’s country specialist on Israel/OPT/PA for a small sample of many of the issues we deal with in regards to that area of the world. Others also post blogs on Israel/OPT/PA including our MENA Advocacy Director, Sanjeev Bery, and the blog Editors.

    The latest Israel/OPT/PA online action we posted is on behalf of Khader Adnan, the Palestinian that recently came off his hunger strike that is being held by Israel under administrative detention which is where they hold someone without charge or trial for months on end and the order can be renewed indefinitely.

    Khader is only one of over 300 currently being held under administrative detention – one gentleman has been held for over five (5) years adn there are at least 25+ members of the Palestinian Legislative Council being held under admin. detention as well.

    You can take action by going to http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517231. Or, you can print off a hard copy of action to share by going to http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/uaa03112_0.pdf.

    You really should be familiar with an organization’s breadth of work before jumping to conclusions. Amnesty has been around for over 50 years advocating for human rights and working on behalf of everyone regardless of skin color, religion, political persuasion, sexual orientation, etc … We’ve addressed our concerns to governments that have been fascist, socialist, open, closed, democratic, dictatorships, theocracies or staunchly secular. Amnesty does not ‘take sides’ in partisan issues – we are a human rights organization that advocates for the respect of human rights for everyone – equally.

  5. I am a longtime supporter of A.I. and am–of course–concerned about oppressive conditions inside Iran. It is important, I think, to remind people that present day Iran came about as a result of a U.K./U.S. engineered coup in 1953. The people of Iran remember the 26 years of brutal oppression which followed and regard the current saber-rattling as still more evidence of American/European interference in their business. An attack on Iran will rally the people around their government and further entrench rule by Ayatollah. I don’t think this is a good time to further demonize the rulers of Iran; we need to be all about preventing a war–the consequences of which would be horrendous for tens of thousands of innocent people. This is a good report on Iran, but it should be written in historical context.

  6. Dear Foster:

    By reporting on Iran's egregious human rights violations we are in no way engaging in saber-rattling and certainly not endorsing military action against Iran. I do not believe that educating people, raising awareness and motivating people to take action against manifest injustice can be construed as engaging in saber-rattling. As an international human rights organization, Amnesty International holds all countries to the same standards, no matter what the political circumstances happen to be. Many NGOs including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and Reporters Without Borders have thoroughly documented and sharply criticized Iran's rampant human rights violations, as has the Secretary General of the United Nations. Most importantly, Iran's own courageous civil society activists, human rights defenders,writers, journalists, student leaders, labor, women's, environmental, anti-death penalty, etc. activists all take enormous risks to create a better society for their fellow Iranians and many have suffered enormously because of it. These Iranian civil society organizations and Iranian activists have repeatedly thanked Amnesty International and other human rights organizations for our campaigning on their behalf and have solicited international solidarity in their struggles for basic human rights. In fact, many prominent Iranian activists have registered their alarm at the notion of military action against their country while at the same time urging the international community to continue to press the Iranian authorities on human rights. We stand in solidarity with these brave activists. Please note that Amnesty International does not call for military action or any U.S. intervention of any kind in Iran, nor do we have any position on the issue of sanctions on Iran and we have no comment on Iran's nuclear program.

  7. I want mercy to be shown to Mehdi which is why I signed the petition but why Amnesty International has not denounced the banning of Press TV in Britain because it exposes the racist imperialist regimes of Britain,France,USA and other European NATO states who finance and arm the murderous dictatorships of Arabia,Kuwait,Bahrain,Qatar,Yemen and other regimes of the same ilk.

  8. Dear Foster:

    By reporting on Iran’s egregious human rights violations we are in no way engaging in saber-rattling and certainly not endorsing military action against Iran. I do not believe that educating people, raising awareness and motivating people to take action against manifest injustice can be construed as engaging in saber-rattling. As an international human rights organization, Amnesty International holds all countries to the same standards, no matter what the political circumstances happen to be. Many NGOs including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and Reporters Without Borders have thoroughly documented and sharply criticized Iran’s rampant human rights violations, as has the Secretary General of the United Nations. Most importantly, Iran’s own courageous civil society activists, human rights defenders,writers, journalists, student leaders, labor, women’s, environmental, anti-death penalty, etc. activists all take enormous risks to create a better society for their fellow Iranians and many have suffered enormously because of it. These Iranian civil society organizations and Iranian activists have repeatedly thanked Amnesty International and other human rights organizations for our campaigning on their behalf and have solicited international solidarity in their struggles for basic human rights. In fact, many prominent Iranian activists have registered their alarm at the notion of military action against their country while at the same time urging the international community to continue to press the Iranian authorities on human rights. We stand in solidarity with these brave activists. Please note that Amnesty International does not call for military action or any U.S. intervention of any kind in Iran, nor do we have any position on the issue of sanctions on Iran and we have no comment on Iran’s nuclear program.