Writer for the Narenji website
Propaganda against regime
Two and a half years' imprisonment
On the morning of December 2, 2013, Revolutionary Guards agents raided Narenji's office. They arrested 14 staff working for the website. After two days of interrogation, the office’s secretary and an intern were released. Along with Vahedi, the other 11 staff members were: Ali-Asghar Honarmand, Hossein Nozari, Ehsan Paknejad, Reza Nozari, Mehdi Fariabi, Amir Sadeghpour, Alireza Vaziri, Mohammad Moosazade, Mustafa Pourqarib and Malihe Nakaee.
Pot Sharq Govashir was the parent company of Narenji, a Persian news and analytical website established in 2007 that focused on technology. The website was originally developed by local tech-enthusiast bloggers in Kerman, and soon became one of the most popular outlets on the subject. The website won an award for best educational website at the third annual online festival of Iranian websites in 2010 and Deutsche Welle described it as the best Persian language blog in 2012.
The website and its parent company were both closed down after the office was raided.
According to an International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran report, on May 23 2014, the Fourth Division of Kerman’s Islamic Revolutionary Court convicted 11 members of the website on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “conspiracy against national security.” Based on the court ruling, Ali-Asghar Honarmand, Hossein Nozari, Ehsan Paknejad and Abbas Vahedi were all given sentences of between two and a half years and 11 years in prison. The seven other suspects were sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment, which turned into three years on probation. The Appeal Court reviewed the case on November 30, 2015, but the ruling has yet to be disclosed.
On December 3, 2013, shortly after the detainment of the staff of Narenji, the Deputy Prosecutor of Kerman, Ahmad Ghorbani, stated: “These individuals are charged with conspiracy against national security through cooperation with media outlets and designing websites and producing content for opposition groups in order to cause regime change in Iran.”
He also added: “The major members of this website were manipulated and controlled by dissident Iranians outside the country.”
Based on the facts and scant evidence on this case, an informed source told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran: “According to the prosecutor’s office, the mother [parent] company employed people who were somehow involved in the Green Movement to design its websites. But this was all. In fact, they just did their job, what they were supposed to do, designing websites. They were not in control nor involved in any shape or form [with] the contents that those websites would later produce and publish.”
He continued: “According to the defense attorneys, there was no evidence whatsoever that supported the charges of ‘propaganda against the regime’ or ‘conspiracy against national security’. It’s not clear why the District Court even charged these individuals to begin with. The suspects and their attorneys mentioned the lack of evidence in the Appeal Court as well and [that] they were expecting to be exonerated by the court ruling. But that never happened, and the first four suspects who were sentenced to serve time were transferred to Kerman’s prison. Their attorneys are confident that [the charges] were because of the election, and hope their clients [will] be released soon since they really did not do anything in line with the charges [made against them].”
After this incident, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which promotes digital and internet civil liberties, published a statement on its website, calling for the immediate release of the Narenji bloggers.