Iran slaps up Telegram admins with five-year jail terms

Iran slaps up Telegram admins with five-year jail terms
A revolutionary court in Iran has sentenced six reformist social media activists to jail terms of up to five years, their lawyer told the ILNA news agency on Wednesday.

3 min read
30 August, 2017
Rouhani criticised the arrests but has little power over the judiciary [Getty]

Six reformist social media administrators were sentenced to jail for up to five years by an Iran court, their lawyer told the ILNA news agency on Wednesday.

The six group administrators on the Telegram messaging app were freed on bail after their arrest in March, lawyer Ali Mojtahedzadeh said, without giving the date of the verdict or the charges.

"According to the verdict by Branch 15 of the revolutionary court, Mr Nima Keshvari and Mr Ahmadnia received five years, Mr Naghdi and Mr Jamshidi four years, and Mr Sobhan Jafari received three years in prison," he said.

A sixth defendant, named Bagheri, was not in court for the verdict, apparently a two-year jail term, Mojtahedzadeh told the reformist labour news agency.

The lawyer said he would not be able to file an appeal until he received a copy of the 60-page verdict.

Iran's conservative-dominated judiciary arrested 12 social media admins supporting reformist and moderate President Hassan Rouhani's camp ahead of the country's May election, on security and obscenity charges.

"Some of these people have been arrested on national security charges and some... for committing crimes against public decency and publishing obscene content," deputy judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie said in April.

Rouhani, a moderate who won re-election, has criticised the arrests but has little power over the judiciary.

Social media sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are blocked in Iran but users exploit widely available privacy software to access them.

But earlier this month, Iran's new communications minister said that negotiations were underway with Twitter to unblock the service, which has been banned for years despite being used even by the country's supreme leader.

The micro-blogging platform was barred at the time of mass anti-regime protests in 2009 that followed allegations of massive rigging in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"(Twitter) has announced that it is prepared to negotiate to resolve problems," Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi told the Iran Dailynewspaper.

"Considering the current situation there are grounds for such negotiation and interaction. Twitter is not an immoral environment needing to be blocked," he added.

He also said officials were also looking at ways to unblock YouTube while still censoring "immoral content" on the video-sharing service, and that a pilot project would allow universities to access the site.

There was no immediate response from Twitter or YouTube.

'Cyberspace can uproot religion'

Despite the ban, Twitter is widely used by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has official accounts in several languages, as well as President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Even former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined the service this year.

But many conservatives remain worried about "Western infiltration" through social media.

In December 2016, Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad-Ali Movahedi Kermani, who heads the committee for the promoting virtue and prohibiting vice, said the dangers of the internet were even greater than women failing to wear a headscarf.

"Bad hijab is a bad thing but cyberspace is a hundred times worse," he said in a speech to religious officials, highlighting the presence of porn and anti-religious sites.

"Cyberspace can uproot religion and Islam completely," he said.