Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

Summary: Iran's terrifying campaign against the internet and netizens is about to go full-throttle with the country's own intranet.

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Iran's recent death sentence of a developer and internet traffic throttling are only part of Iran's wider campaign against bloggers, technology, and the free-flowing information of the internet.

In mid-January it was reported that web developer Saeed Malekpour had been sentenced to death in Iran for allegedly building and maintaining porn websites.

UPDATE 02.17.12 PST 2:25: Despite opposition, Iran has set to schedule Malekpour's execution and it is in the final stage within the Iranian court system. His death sentence has been fast-tracked, despite the fact he did not work on a porn website (as per his accusation and charges).

His case has just been transferred to Iranian's judicial arena that is responsible for following through with death sentences (The Circuit Court for Execution of sentences).

This news is being called "a lethal abuse of the law." According to his attorneys Malekpour's death may happen "at any moment." /End update

The developer had been jailed secretly for over a year in solitary confinement and says he endured electrocutions, beatings, and removal of his teeth with pliers to elicit a "confession."

Malekpour, a Canadian citizen, had actually only contributed to a script as part of a generic website photo uploader.

According to Malekpour's wife Mrs. Eftekhari, the Iranian court charges for his alleged involvement with a pornographic website included:

Propaganda against the regime, operating immoral web sites, insulting divine principles, insulting the president, relations with groups that oppose the regime, being contact with foreigners. In general, these are known as the “corrupt on the earth.”

The shorthand is that he was charged with "Waging war against God" and sentenced to death.

At the end of January the U.S. State Department issued a statement that the developer had not received due process, while outcry for Malekpour's release began to be heard around the world.

He is still in prison awaiting execution.

Malekpour was not arrested alone.

The web developer and IT professionals Vahid Asghari and Ahmad Reza Hasempour were arrested at the same time.

They were targeted because they were seen as capable of hosting, or assisting with the building of websites. Each were sentenced to death last month.

Widespread arrests and Iran's own National Internet

It was reported that widespread arrests of human rights activists across Iran were, according to the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, in conjunction with a "certain network of individuals being involved in a network of decadence on the internet."

In early 2011, Iran’s top police chief was quoted by the AP as saying that "Cyber Police" forces were on the ground in major cities to guard against internet threats and curb Western influences.

At the opening of a new police headquarters in the Shiite seminary city of Qom Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said,

“There is no time to wait. We will have cyber police all over Iran.”

By September 2011, pro-government Iranian news outlet Mashregh News stated that Iran was building a "cyber army" of 250,000 people "aimed at combating corruption on the Internet" and "external penetrations from the West."

The Mashregh News report related that "The national Internet is the last step in this cyber war: Iran wants its own network."

Indeed: last March Iran announced the launch of its multimillion dollar project to build an Iranian intranet.

"The Iranian Revolution Guards are the arm for monitoring cyberspace," the report said. "This especially powerful branch of Iran's armed forces took control of the national institution responsible for networks in 2009."

IRG was taking full control just after the beginning of widespread internet-related arrests, like Malekpour - and many more.

State-controlled internet access

In early January 2012, Iran's Cyber Police began surveillance on users of internet cafes, including the installation of video cameras and tracking users' names, father's names, and users' complete digital footprints.

At the same time, Iranian internet users claimed the government had blocked numerous websites and access to VPNs.

Last week the Iranian government had blocked all encrypted traffic, notably through the Tor anonymizing network. Tor endeavored and its traffic was back online by Sunday.

But since February 10, over 30 million Iranians have been unable to access Gmail and other Google services (as well as Microsoft's free Hotmail service), according to confirmation by Bloomberg.

The Wall Street Journal recognized the new internet cafe clampdown as part of the Iranian Cyber Police wider agenda, saying:

The network slowdown likely heralds the arrival of an initiative Iran has been readying—a "halal" domestic intranet that it has said will insulate its citizens from Western ideology and un-Islamic culture, and eventually replace the Internet.

This week's slowdown came amid tests of the Iranian intranet, according to domestic media reports that cited a spokesman for a union of computer-systems firms. He said the intranet is set to go live within a few weeks.

Taken together, the moves represent Iran's boldest attempts to control flows of online information.

But this isn't just a tale about state-run internet censorship. Or a government gearing up for March elections - though that is certainly part of this deeply troubling story.

Execution and indefinite detention for bloggers and netizens

Amnesty International recently raised the alarm that Iran is targeting for execution a growing number of media workers because of their work on the internet.

Amnesty writes,

Iranian authorities continue their crackdown on bloggers and other users of the internet.

The Supreme Court's [Malekpour] decision comes as the Iranian government is stepping up its targeting of internet users in a crackdown on freedom of expression ahead of the Iranian parliamentary elections in March. (...)

Blogger Vahid Asghari, who had been studying information and computer technology in India prior to his arrest in 2008, and website administrator Ahmad Reza Hashempour are also on death row after apparently unfair trials, awaiting execution on internet-related charges.

Dual Iranian and Canadian national, Hossein Derakhshan, known as the "blogfather" for introducing blogging to Iran, is serving a 19 and a half year sentence on internet-related charges.

Under the watch of Iran's cyber police, men and women have been jailed, tortured and sentenced to death for technology and alleged internet-related crimes.

Scan the Information from the Iran Prisoner List (begun in 2009). You'll see plenty of arrests and charges for ordinary citizens and: bloggers, webmasters, engineers, website designers, numerous "netizens, " so-called "web activists" and computer experts.

Aside from job descriptions, some have been jailed for things ranging from talking about Islam online to "charges related to Facebook use."

They have all been held in Iran's notorious chamber-of-horrors prison, Evin.

Also at Evin is Hossein Ronaghi Maleki. On December 13, 2009 he was arrested with his brother Hasan and held in solitary for a year, and has reportedly been severely beaten on several occasions to obtain a confession (among other tortures).

Born in 1986, he is a well-known Iranian blogger, IT enthusiast and strong advocate against cyber censorship.

Maleki (pictured at right) apparently did hands-on work to combat internet censorship and bypass filters for free speech - the kind of things the people at Tor do.

He is now facing new charges.

So when you hear me going off in this space about the necessity of pseudonyms in social networks, and real-world consequences for totalitarian censorship, and pornography being used as a foil for silencing speech and creating oppression...

Please do connect the dots.

Follow Free Malekpour on Twitter for updates. Main image of Iranian woman on a computer by Milkyo0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Google

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35 comments
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  • Troubling, but ultimately doomed.

    This is the kind of oppression fearful, totalitarian governments do. Human history if full of them.
    D.T.Long
    • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

      @D.T.Long - too bad thousands, maybe millions of "innocents" will suffer. easy to pontificate from a relatively anonymous computer in the US (excuse me if I'm wrong about where you are).
      plandok@...
  • Good for them - The internet is a cesspool

    The internet has turned into a veritable cesspool of scams, identity theft, and hacking that has effectively left in-your-face advertising as the only legitimate activity -- that, and organizing revolutions.

    There is a fine line between freedom to do whatever you want, and treason. If these intellectuals dislike their governement so much, go blow up a building. Until then, their government - any government for that matter - has the duty to protect the integrity of the nation it governs.
    croberts
    • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

      @croberts
      "the duty to protect the integrity of the nation it governs."

      By detention, torture, and execution?
      lwayne@...
      • Well that's an interesting question

        @lwayne@...

        When exactly does detention for those trying to subvert a country become wrong? When does a government lose legitimacy?

        If 5% of the population are malcontents, then I would say the 95% could legitimately take the position they can impose whatever rules they want.

        Does it become wrong when it's 10%, 20%, or 30%?

        The only clearcut number would be 50% + 1 as the point where a government loses legitimacy. Unless someone can provide a figure indicating that more than 50% of Iranians are actively unhappy with their country, who is anyone to say that their government protecting the integrity of their nation is wrong?
        croberts
    • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

      @croberts

      Your reading comprehension skills are awesome. This has nothing to do with a government protecting the integrity of its nation. It's all about totalitarian control.
      jaski999
    • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

      @croberts
      Sounds like you should move to Iran. They'll "protect" you from all the nastiness of the web. As for me, I'll take freedom, thank you.
      WozNotWoz
    • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

      @croberts
      No, there is a huge gulf between the freedom to do what you want and treason. Except in a tyrannical regime where the freedom to do what you want is defined as treason.

      Yes, it is the duty of the government to protect the integrity of the nation it governs - which includes First and Foremost, the freedom of its citizens to do what they want. Legitimate government is about the social contract where individuals assign certain powers to the government so that it will have the means to protect the rights of all.
      dmclean@...
      • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

        @dmclean@... unfortunately, this is an embedded American view. In some countries, the duty of the government is to protect its "integrity", ie, power. Keep reading to see how Canadians feel about this in view of what is happening to Canadians overseas and in Canada.
        plandok@...
    • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

      @croberts
      "If these intellectuals dislike their governement so much, go blow up a building."

      Obviously you missed the part where Violet indicates that he is a CANADIAN citizen.

      "Blow up a building" indeed! Yes, that's much more peaceful and less violent than developing websites!
      sissy sue
    • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

      @croberts: Please, may this be sarcasm. Please please please...<br><br><br>If you are serious, you should know that YOU could have been one of these people sentenced to DEATH if somebody happened to dislike you. Seriously.<br><br>Oh, and by the way: these guys have defined treason as "we don't like you". Not even "do as we say", but it's even more arbitary.<br><br>And again, how exactly is it treason to build an image uploader? If that's the definition of treason, then how can *anything* be legal?

      Edit: Go read "1984". If you would happen to like that regime in the book, then I can't see why you're visiting a western website and posting comments that aren't premoderated.
      Natanael_L
    • This isn't a fine line between anything

      @croberts
      and I will say it has [b]nothing[/b] to do with[i] the duty to protect the integrity of the nation it governs[/i], instead it has [b]everything[/b] to do with controlling the population that does not want to be cotrolled or have the government's definition of "integrety" forced on them by their government.

      They don't want western influences, they don't even want their citizens to emulate other Arab societies with lesser restrictions.

      Sad that you can't see it.
      William Farrel
    • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

      @croberts - oh, you agree people should be summarily detained and killed because the internet is bad. Hmmm....maybe drivers should be also because the roads they drive on cause thousands of deaths and maiming? Oh, is organizing a "revolution" necessarily bad? Americans are organizing revolutions against bad and dangerous chemicals, unsafe vehicles, death by soda drinking, smoking and so on. So they should be treated like Iranians?

      Lots of people here need to learn a bit of logic as well as some realism about what happens.
      plandok@...
    • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

      @croberts
      So you're saying: Nuke Iran before they nuke us? Okay, sounds good!
      flyer99999
    • Thank you, Mr. McVeigh

      @croberts
      "If these intellectuals dislike their governement so much, go blow up a building"

      I wonder what the punishment is for inciting acts of terrorism. Oh, that's right, in the U.S. it's a squadron of SEALs choppering into your compound and putting 2 in your head. In Iran, it seems, they'll probably torture you for a year and a half first.

      Here's what happens when someone follows your advice ...
      "On April 19, 1995, McVeigh drove the truck to the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building just as its offices opened for the day. Before arriving, he stopped to light a 5 minute fuse. At 09:02, a large explosion destroyed the north half of the building. The explosion killed 168 people, including nineteen children in the day care center on the second floor, and injured 450 others"

      If you don't like the cesspool, then go swim elsewhere.
      use_what_works_4_U
    • As long as you've stuck your neck out...

      @croberts
      ...are there any aspects of Iranian Internet policy that should be emulated by the US?
      John L. Ries
    • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

      @croberts

      You realize you're posting your opinion on the internet, right? What form of pus do you consider your rhetoric?

      By your metric. SAYING your are unhappy with country is a perfectly good justification for the torture and murder of yourself and everyone you care about. How is anyone supposed to conduct an honest survey under those conditions?
      tkejlboom
  • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

    This is where religion wins out. It's a form of internet that survives in the soul and can't be killed or modified. CCCP tried for years and failed. The internet will prevail and grow stronger ....... after ..... the tyrants fall and the memory of their overturning survives. Up to then, fear will drive legislation and repression. You see this today in the U.S. With a genuine external threat, the dust of security settles on everything from travel to talking.
    trm1945
  • Great article

    I have some friends with family in Iran.
    What goes on there is unreal.

    VB - thx and keep giving us dots to connect.
    rhonin
  • RE: Iran's Deadly Cyber Police: Indefinite Detention and Execution for Netizens

    Wow. Seriously. Wow.
    chago2009