Friday , 28 January 2022

Iran Targets Activists and Journalists before the Parliamentary Election Next Week

Radiozmaneh – Iranian users take to twitter demanding the release of Student Activist Bahareh Hedayat, who is among a dozen journalists and activists targeted by security forces in the months of February as campaigns are ongoing for the parliamentary elections in Iran.

Bahareh Hedayat, a prisoner of conscience in Iran, has been in and out of prison in the past fifteen spending eight years of her life in custody.

Some Iranian users organized a Twitter campaign on 14 Feb 2020, for the release of student and women’s rights activist, Bahareh Hedayat, whom Iranian security forces arrested on 10 Feb 2020 at her university.

Hedayat is not alone, the notorious security branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) known as the Intelligence Organization of IRGC has been systematically targeting journalists and activists before the parliamentary elections which is to take place next week on 21 Feb 2020.

The IRGC has been active in the crackdown of two major waves of protests in Iran in the past six months including the nationwide November protests of 2019 against the gasoline price hike and the Jan 2020 protest over the downing of Ukranianan passenger plane by IRGC. Intelligence Organization of IRGC is now taking preventative measures targeting influential figures in social media when it comes to disseminating information.

Bahareh Hedayat, a student and women’s rights activist, has been a prisoner of conscience in Iran, moving in and out of prison in the past fifteen years. Hedayat has spent eight years of the past fifteen years in prison. This is her fifth arrest and it comes at the time that she was finally allowed to continue her studies at Tehran University.

Bahareh Hedayat started her activism as a member of the feminist One Million Signature Campaign in Iran, demanding the end of gender discrimination in the laws of the county. In 2006, she became the first woman to be elected as a member of one of Iran’s largest student unions, the Central Committee of the Office for the Consolidation of Unity (Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat). After the 2009 disputed presidential election in Iran, Hedayat was re-arrested and sentenced to nine years and six months in prison; she served seven of those years.

Hedayat has been denied her right to education during prison years and was recently admitted back to university. She was arrested again when the University of Tehran’s security police summoned her for questioning on 10 Feb 2020. The campus security forces initially denied their role in Hedayat’s arrest but later announced that they had worked with intelligence forces who took Hedayat to Tehran’s Evin prison.

Hedayat loved ones thought she was missing for two days. Only later on, security forces at Evin prison confirmed that they had arrested this student activist.

It is not yet clear what she is being charged for. Her previous sentences were all based on national security offenses like “acting against national security” – a common charge for many political prisoners in Iran.

Bahareh Hedayat has been a vocal critique of the crackdown of the November 2019 protests that erupted in reaction to an increase in gasoline prices in Iran. She has also used her social media account to voice concerns over the Jan 2020 downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane by Iran Armed Forces which led to protests in some urban centers in Iran.

The Center for Human Rights (CHRI) in Iran announced after Hedayat’s arrest that Iranian security forces are summoning and arresting activists and journalists in the month of Feb 2020. CHRI has documented ten cases in the past two week in which security forces have raided the homes of journalists and activists, confiscating their belongings.

CHRI says that the raiding and arresting body is the intelligence branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) known in Iran as Etellat-e Sepah.

Zamaneh has spoken to a journalist familiar with some of the arrests and raids, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity and stated that journalists active on social media are being targeted and all their electronics, including laptops and cell phones, are being taken in house raids.

“They took every phone and computer there was in the house,” our source said indicating that the security forces did not only confiscate the electronics of the arrested journalists and in some cases, the communication devices of other family members have also been confiscated.

The local activists and journalists believe this is an attempt on the part of the security forces to silence those active in disseminating information before the parliamentary elections in Iran. All those who have been either arrested or taken for questioning in the past two weeks are activists and journalists who maintain active social media accounts and are connected to a network of journalists outside of Iran who are instrumental in disseminating information about Iranian dissidents.

A reporter who has spoken to CHRI on 11 Feb 2019 says:

“They come and confiscate things like computers, phones, books, writings, and press ID cards belonging to journalists and their relatives and don’t return them until they appear for questioning to explain [their posts on social media]. This stops the journalists from carrying out their work and allows agents to find material to press charges against them.”

Social media has become a tool in the dissemination of information from in-country journalists to exiled media who are instrumental in documenting citizen’s rights violations in Iran. By limiting the freedom of in-country journalists who are active in social media, the authorities are limiting access to free information before the parliamentary election in Iran.

More than 7000 candidates, including many reformists and moderate candidates who are current members of the parliament, have been disqualified by the Guardian Council’s vetting process. Campaigns are ongoing on social media that ask Iranian citizens not to vote in the election that its sole aim is to give complete control of the parliament to the hardliners

“Muzzling journalists, detaining activists, and disqualifying parliamentary candidates will not silence dissent in Iran, as the recent protests have shown,” said the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) Hadi Ghaemi in a statement.

According to CHRI some of journalists and activists who have been targeted by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization since 1 Feb 2020 are Bahareh Hedayat (student and women’s rights activist); Yasaman Khaleghian (journalist); Maziar Khosravi (politics journalist( and former editor of Shargh daily); Moloud Hajizadeh (women’s affairs journalist at Taadol daily); Yaghma Fashkhami (journalist and former political prisoner); Ehsan Bodaghi (a parliamentary journalist of Iran newspaper); Shabnam Nezami (journalist), as well as Mona Mafi (journalist, activist and former political prisoner).

Iranians are to vote on Friday 21 Feb 2020 in the parliamentary elections and the campaign of election boycott are active on social media. If these boycott campaigns are successful in pursuing Iranian citizens not to vote, the hardliners are expected to hold the majority in the Iranian parliament.