Enforced online repentance, Iran's new method of repression
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to discover that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are threatening and pressuring journalists in order to get them to post apologies online for their past posts and thereafter to stop posting.
Several journalists, human rights activists, writers and performers have posted apologies on their Twitter, Instagram or Facebook accounts for previously posted content or opinions. RSF has learned that these online expressions of “repentance” are the result of being summoned by Revolutionary Guard intelligence officers or being threatened with arrest.
Two journalists have been forced to tweet apologies for previous tweets criticizing the arrest and trial of eight ecologists, members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, who were given sentences ranging from four to ten years in prison on charges of spying and “activities against national security.”
On 13 June, Leila Margan, a journalist with the Shargh daily newspaper, tweeted: “Given that the court, as the final authority for espionage crimes, has approved the verdict of the judicial authorities in the Persian Heritage case, I will not tweet on this subject in the future and I regret my former tweets.”
The next day, environmental journalist Mojgan Jamshidi tweeted: “Because I live in this country (...) if my tweets or retweets expressed reservations about the environmental court’s verdict, I am correcting that now. I respect the court's decision.”
Previously, the journalist and blogger Mohammad Moeini took his leave on Twitter on 18 May with this tweet: “You are reading my last tweet. I am abandoning this corner of cyberspace to the horde of mercenaries who decorate your oppression. I either write whatever I want or I don't write.”
“Being forced to repent online is a continuation of the old method of forcing prisoners to say sorry and confess,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran-Afghanistan desk. “Such harassment is a serious violation of Iranians’ fundamental rights, in particular, the right to free speech and the freedom to inform. The Iranian government must respect its obligations with regard to international standards, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has signed.”
It’s not just journalists who are receiving such pressure from the Intelligence Service Organization of the Revolutionary Guards. Several writers and performers have posted similar announcements on their social media pages.
This crackdown on journalists and social media users shows that the Islamic Republic does not even tolerate the social media use it has already restricted by means of blocking and close surveillance.
A statement issued by 300 Iranian intellectuals on 22 June protested against the climate of intimidation, harassment, arrest and censorship to which they are subjected and its negative effects on freedom of expression and culture and Iran.
Iran is ranked 173rd out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.