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Iran arrests a journalist for not using the term "martyrdom," part of a wider social media crackdown

In a report published on October 20 in Ebtekar (ابتكار), the Persian-language reformist newspaper published in Tehran, entitled 'Illumination of the Pilgrims,' journalist Pouyan Khoshhal discussed the health threats to those on Arba'een (اربعين) pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is considered the world's largest and takes place in Karbala, Iraq when Shi'ites gather in the holy city. He discussed the health problems that could result but in his, instead of using the phrase "Imam Hussein's martyrdom," he used the phrase "Imam Hussein's death." Using the term "death" rather than "martyrdom" has resulted in criminal charges.

On Twitter and social media critics accused him of insulting the pilgrimage and the 40th day of the "death of Imam Husayn," highlighting that he had used the word "death." Activists called for the authorities to take action against the journalist for insulting the imams and hurting the image of Iran.

(From left to right: An image from the article with the section on "death" highlighted, an article by the journalist and news of his arrest)

Tehrani prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi stated on October 24 that the writer would be prosecuted for insulting Imam Husayn ibn Ali. The head of the Public Prosecutors Office of Culture and Media followed the report of the judicial authorities and published in media and other newspapers the "offensive issues against Imam Husayn."

An announcement of the arrest on Twitter

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps cyber activists are actively monitoring and seeking out journalists and civil activists, and this case is symbolic of a larger pattern of harassment and intimidations. The Twitter account of Khoshhal, for instance, uses a nickname for the writer. Nevertheless internet users quickly wrote about the arrest. Government affiliated media spread the word for the crime and authorities followed Khoshhal and arrested him as he attempted to leave the country. A reporter in Qazvin, northwest of Tehran, was attacked for criticizing the destruction of ancient walls of the municipality. He was assaulted by authorities and hospitalized and the offenders, who are members of the staff of the municipality, were not arrested.

Cyberattacks by the IRGC have long been a method of identifying and unmasking activists who work anonymously online. For instance those who seek to critique authorities for political, social or civil activity, are harassed by the police, civilian authorities and the Basij.

An image of Pouyan Khoshhal put online by supporters, it has been altered from the original

According to unofficial blogs published by users more than 450 "cybercriminals" have been prosecuted in the past few months amid a widening crackdown. A number of Iranian social media users and reformists have put up a photo of Pouyan Khoshhal at an Ashura ceremony and demanded his release. Meanwhile pro-regime elements demand punishment, and say that he insulted the beliefs of 80 million Iranians and Shi'ites.

The arrest of Khoshhal, which has increasingly been noticed outside Iran's borders, is symbolic of a wider crackdown by the regime, even on those whose infractions appear minor.


Keywords: Iran, Ebtekar, Pouyan Khoshhal, پويان-خوشحال , ایران‎

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