Stop the Persecution: Iranian Authorities Must Immediately Release Technologists and Digital Rights Defenders

We, the undersigned human rights organizations, strongly condemn the Iranian authorities’ ruthless persecution, harassment, and arrest of technologists and digital rights defenders, and demand their immediate and unconditional release. 

In an attempt to crush the popular uprising and further restrict internet activity and information flows, Iranian authorities are escalating their violent crackdown on people across Iran, and are now targeting internet experts and technologists. To date, Iranian authorities have arrested at least six tech engineers who have been vocal on digital rights in Iran. Those detained have criticized internet restrictions, shown support to protests, or have been explaining the authorities’ technical repression. We are concerned over the growing pressure on this community, including technology journalists and bloggers, and the suppression of their criticisms against authorities. Any attempts to investigate or bring transparency to issues of digital repression or protests are being brutally stamped out. The world cannot allow the Islamic Republic of Iran to normalize this kind of persecution. The government must release these detainees at once.

Well-known technologists and internet access experts Hossein Darvari, Aryan Eqbal, Milad Nouri, Adel Talebi, Maysam Rajabi and Mohsen Tahmasebi have been amongst those targeted for arrest by the authorities since the beginning of the protests following the death in police custody of 22 year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa (Jhina) Amini. 

On October 5, authorities arrested Amiremad (Jadi) Mirmirani — a blogger and one of Iran’s leading technologists. According to a family member on Instagram, authorities forcefully stormed into Mirmirani’s house to unlawfully detain him: “Today at 2 o’clock they rang the doorbell and said that we have a gas leak. When we went to the door, they attacked us. They entered with force, intimidation and threats of using tasers and guns on us. They entered without a warrant and took Jadi away without any legal justification.” Testimonies from contacts that asked to remain anonymous indicate that Hossein Davari and Aryan Eqbal were also arrested under conditions of physical assault by security forces.

The wife of detained expert Aryan Eqbal, Ghasedak Hosseini, emphasized that her husband was not involved in any illegal activity that warrants his arrest. She told Shargh newspaper: “Aryan’s only concern has always been people’s right to have free access to the Internet. And that has not been limited only to his own country, but for the whole world. He has only voiced opposition to the Protection Bill and disruptions and limits imposed on his people’s access to the Internet, nothing else.”

Many of these technologists arrested have expressed opposition to the draconian User Protection Bill. Amongst the most alarming elements of the Bill is the policy to block all foreign services that refuse to cooperate with authorities, as well as criminalizing and disabling the use of circumvention technology (such as VPNs) —two policies that have been defining the shape of internet restrictions during these protests. The Bill has been in the process of ratification in the Iranian parliament for over two years, however in the absence of political will for its acceptance, its policies have been quietly implemented

The policies and development originating from this suppressing Bill have facilitated disturbing new methods of internet disruptions during protests. These new methods include disabling the use of the internet through mobile network curfews as the majority of internet users rely on mobile internet data. Additionally, we have seen concerted and sophisticated attacks to disable VPNs — severing the last lifeline to blocked and foreign and secure internet services, including the widely-used Instagram and WhatsApp (recently blocked during these protests). 

Iran’s overarching digital repression during the ongoing nationwide protests is severe. The intense online internet censorship alongside partial and intermittent disruptions and shutdowns since September 16 are having extreme impacts on the free flow of information and documentation. These attacks on technologists are a frightening escalation of repression in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s attempts to repress human rights and eliminate any hopes for digital rights. 

We are deeply alarmed by the violent and unrestrained crackdown and use of lethal force against peaceful protests across Iran, alongside ongoing internet restrictions and disruptions. Since the outbreak of nation-wide protests three weeks ago, at least 154 protestors have been killed, including nine children. Iranian authorities have also unlawfully arrested over fifty human rights defenders, in addition to at least 35 journalists and student activists, some already charged with “acting against national security.” The number of arrests is suspected to be in the thousands. 

This latest crackdown on technologists is a frightening sign that no voice or form of expression is being spared in this fiercely securitized atmosphere. 

The government of Iran must immediately release the arrested technologists, stop this protest repression — both online and offline — and be independently investigated for the human rights crimes it is committing with full impunity.

Signatories

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Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) 

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