Cartoon 126: Khamenei’s Green Light for Press Crackdown

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Several journalists were arrested in Iran over the past week in an intensifying campaign of repression that is based on the belief, spearheaded by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, that the US intends to use any post-nuclear deal opening in Iran to “infiltrate” and undermine the Islamic Republic. This is cartoonist Touka Neyestani’s take on the developments.

Prominent Cartoonist Hadi Heidari Arrested

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Hadi Heidari’s last cartoon was related to the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Security forces arrested the prominent Iranian cartoonist Hadi Heidari in his office at Shahrvand Daily in Tehran today, November 16, 2015. Two co-workers of Heidari at the Tehran daily confirmed the arrest and told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that “a young man came with a warrant. He showed Hadi the warrant and they took him quietly.”

The sources told the Campaign that they were not certain which organization arrested Heidari, but added that he was likely arrested by the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization. Heidari’slast cartoon was related to the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Hadi Heidari, 38, is a graduate of Tehran’s Arts and Architecture University with a degree in painting. For the past twenty years, he has worked in various reformist publications in Iran, including Etemad, Bahar, Pool, Norooz, Neshat, Asr-e Azadegan, and Eghbal, among others.

Heidari was first arrested in 2009 in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” and spent 17 days in detention before release. He was again arrested in December 2010 on charges of “propaganda against the state,” and was released two months later on bail of about $15,000.

In September 2012, a cartoon by Heidari titled “The Blindfolded Men” and published in Shargh Newspaper, became highly controversial. Following its publication and a concerted effort by 150 Members of the Parliament, state authorities, and clerics, Shargh Newspaper was banned on September 26, 2012, a day after the cartoon was published, and Heidari, was summoned to court. Mehdi Rahmanian, the newspaper’s manager and license holder, was transferred to Evin Prison.

The authorities who objected to the cartoon stated that it was an insult to Iran-Iraq War veterans, but many believed this to be a mere excuse for banning the reformist newspaper in which it was published. The newspaper and Mr. Heidari were eventually acquitted of the charges on December 29, 2012, and Shargh resumed publication.

During recent weeks, several Iranian journalists have been arrested by the Revolutionary Guard Intelligence Organization, in what has become an intensifying crackdown by hardliners. Ehsan Mazandarani, Managing Director of Farhikhtegan Newspaper, Afarin Chitsaz, columnist for Iran Newspaper, Saman Safarzaei, the International Editor of Andisheh Pouya publication, and Issa Saharkhiz, political activist and journalist, are some of the recent detainees whose arrests have been confirmed by the Revolutionary Guards.

Popular Instant Messaging Applications Severely Interrupted in Iran

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A month after a warning by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Center for Investigation of Organized Crime that the use of Telegram violated Iran’s crime laws, access to the popular messaging network in Iran was severely interrupted on November 16, 2015.

Access to Telegram on the HTTP protocol (an insecure computer network protocol) was blocked in Iran and users could only get on the network through their smartphones or the HTTPS protocol (a secure network protocol which is more difficult to block).

The warning, published on the Guards’ Gerdab website in an article on October 20, 2015, stated that content by Iranian users on Telegram violated Article 21 of the country’s cyber crime laws.

An investigation by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has found that other social media applications have also been affected. One of these applications, IMO, had been gaining more Iranian users after rumors about blocking Telegram intensified. But now it is almost impossible to enter the alternative messaging service. Similar applications known as BeeTalk and Signal have also been very slow to respond for Iranian users.

While the Rouhani administration has sought to impose selective, or “smart” Internet filtering, in which only “objectionable” content is blocked, hardline authorities in charge of Internet censorship have sought to completely block sites or networks deemed objectionable, forcing users to look for other alternatives.

Those authorities have tried to encourage Iranians to use domestic messaging and social media programs within Iran’s National Internet Network that are developed with tools that facilitate covert state monitoring of accounts, but the general response has been negative.