RFL/RE – Iranian state news agencies have reported the arrest of two young men accused of being part of a team that manages a Telegram channel associated with the wave of protests sweeping the country.
The agencies, including the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), revealed the arrests on June 15 while also broadcasting what some suspect were “forced confessions.”
Video of the confessions, produced by the intelligence arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the southeastern Iranian province of Khorasan Razavi, contains blurred images of two men, along with footage of protests in the city of Mashhad. The Telegram channel Youth of Mashhad Neighbourhoods has been accused by the authorities of instigating the protests.
It was not clear whether the confessions were made under duress. Iranian authorities have been accused by many of those arrested, along with rights groups, of using torture and other methods to forcibly extract false confessions during the protests.
The channel is allegedly managed by four people, including the “owner” and “three administrators.”
The identities of the two men arrested and the other two involved in the channel are not disclosed in the video, though one of the detainees, whose face cannot be seen, is introduced as the owner of the channel, while the other is said to be an administrator and is given the pseudonym Ali Kianloo.
In one part of the video, the “owner” refers to the start of protests following the killing of Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police. He says that after the protests started, “we saw that other cities in Iran, like the cities in Kurdistan and Tehran, were protesting, so we thought we’d start a channel, get active, and call for protests.”
Meanwhile, the administrator says their goal was to “call for protests and establish the Youth of Mashhad Neighbourhoods channel” concurrent with the spread of unrest in other cities.
The video also claims that in addition to calling for protests, the Youth of Mashhad Neighbourhoods channel showed how to make Molotov cocktails and engage with security forces.
The detention of the two men came on the eve the birthday of Majidreza Rahnavard, a protester who was hanged in a public execution in Mashhad on December 12 — just 23 days after his arrest — after being convicted of killing two members of the security forces.
The group Iran Human Rights said Rahnavard’s sentencing was based on “coerced confessions, after a grossly unfair process and a show trial.”
The protests in Mashhad, the birthplace of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, were some of the biggest following the September 2022 death of Amini.
Authorities have warned for months after unrest broke out following Amini’s death that they would react harshly to any dissent. Lawmakers have pushed the judiciary to render the death penalty in trials for those arrested during the protests, which are seen as one of the biggest threats to the Islamic leadership since it took power in 1979.