- United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, Navi Pillay, OHCHR, Ahmed Shaheed, EU, European Parliament,
As of January 8, 2014 it has been thirty six days since the arrest of Mehdi Faryabi, who works as a developer at KhorjinApp. His website server seems expired. He is one of sixteen Iranian IT specialists and net citizens arrested last month. They have been threatened with the "maximum punishment" for politically-motivated charges of anti-regime "subversion" and "collusion" with foreigners.
On December 4, 2013 the Revolutionary Guards arrested 16 cyber-activists. According to the Mehr News Agency (which has ties to the Revolutionary Guards), these 16 had "ties to foreigners" and "cooperated with anti-government websites."
Cooperation with Western news networks, designing and updating websites educating citizen reporters and cooperation with opposition websites are among the charges which the arrested activists are being accused with.
Previously, Iranian Narenji website reported that seven people got arrested - Ali Asghar Honarmand, Abbas Vahedi, Ali Reza Vaziri, Nasim Nikmehr, Maliheh Nakhai, Mohammad Hussein Mousazadeh and Sara Sajjadpour.
Narenji, which specialises in publishing tech news, reported that seven of its employees, including journalists and technical staff, had been arrested by the IRGC.
The statement was removed from the website later, and the website itself was unreachable for a short time after the article was put online. Narenji was set up six years ago by a group of bloggers.
Half of those arrested have since been released on bail, the Guardian has learned, but the rest, including Narenji's staff, remain in detention.
The head of Kerman's justice department, Ali Tavakoli, alleged this week that those arrested had participated in projects run by the BBC and received funds deriving from London.
Iranian authorities have a deep suspicion of the BBC, especially its Persian service, which they accuse of having a political agenda, and have previously arrested people on charges of working or having links with the broadcaster.
"This gang was running a number of projects and plans for anti-revolutionary Iranians based abroad, especially for the BBC Persian under the guise of legitimate activities," he said during a press conference.
"Financial aid for this group was usually provided from London under the pretext of charitable donations. The director of the team was an individual who has served the BBC as a mentor and teacher in a number of countries such as Malaysia, India and Afghanistan and his travels to these countries was paid for by British intelligence services."
Tavakoli said that those held had confessed to "being tasked with fuelling social tension, spreading doubts and misrepresentations". It was not clear if the eight still in jail had access to lawyers or to their families.
He said: "They were consciously serving the plots designed by the sworn enemies of this country and they deserve to receive the most severe punishment."
The Guardian reported last year that the Iranian authorities had been conducting a smear campaign designed to discredit and intimidate London-based Iranian journalists working for BBC Persian.
A number of BBC Persian staff were victims of false allegations of sexual misconduct, duplicated Facebook accounts, and harassment of their family members in Iran including being summoned by the intelligence officials for questioning. The harassments have continued despite the election of Hassan Rouhani as president.
At least one of the detainees was among the trainees of an award-winning journalism development programme run by the BBC World Service Trust from 2006 to 2010, called ZigZag.
The BBC has denied that those arrested were co-operating with it and said the training programmes mentioned by the Iranian authorities ended four years ago, according to BBC Persian.
Soon after their arrests were made in Kerman, the semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, said the detainees has be in "contact with enemy media based abroad with the aim of producing content for educational websites targeted at citizen-journalists".
Bloggers and activists currently in jail include Aliasghar Honarmand, who is the founder of Narenji, which specialises in gadget news, Abbas Vahedi, Hossein Nozari, Reza Nozari, Amir Sadeghpour, Mehdi Faryabi, Ehsan Paknejad and Malihe Nakhaei.
A former BBC project manager, who did not want to be named, told the Guardian: "I believe the arrests, especially of the Narenji team, to be part of the reaction of the hardliners within the Iranian establishment to the attempts of President Rouhani to move towards the opening up of cyberspace and the media sphere; and to relax the previous rigid attitude towards contacts with foreign institutions."
The arrests have also coincided with attempts by the BBC to obtain stronger operational presence in Iran.
"As the Revolutionary Guards are opposed in general to improved contacts with the west; and in particular to developing contacts with foreign media outlets, especially the BBC, it seems they have revived an old and discredited story in an attempt to undermine the president's initiatives in this sphere," said the former BBC staffer.
"Additionally, after what have been in the eyes of the hardliners, unacceptable concessions by the government on the nuclear agenda, this could be part of a campaign to show that foreign policy compromises will not be matched by any accompanying liberalisation in the domestic sphere."
We, the undersigned urge the Iranian government to take all necessary steps to secure the immediate and unconditional release of Mehdi Faryabi and all other net citizens imprisoned, or released on bail but awaiting trial on politically-motivated charges of "anti-state activities."
We further urge the international community to bring all possible pressure to bear upon the Islamic Republic to guaranteed that these young professionals are released and spared any further political persecution from the Revolutionary Guards or any other police agency in Iran.
The Free Iranian Website Developer Mehdi Faryabi petition to United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, Navi Pillay, OHCHR, Ahmed Shaheed, EU, European Parliament, was written by John S. Burke and is in the category Human Rights at GoPetition.