Some Detained Reformist Telegram Channel Admins Released on Bail Until Trial
Until their trial later this month, three out of six administrators of Pro-Rouhani Telegram channels who have been detained since March 2016 have been released on bail.
Mojtaba Bagheri, Saeed Naghdi and Javad Jamshidi were able to leave Evin Prison on July 30, 2017 after they posted bail set at 500 million tomans ($153,000 USD) each.
Two other detained admins, Nima Keshvari and Sobhan Jafari-Tash, could also be released but have not yet posted bail, according to their lawyer Ali Mojtahedzadeh.
Keshvari is expected to post bail soon, but Jafari-Tash has not yet succeeded in doing so, said Mojtahedzadeh in an interview with the state-funded Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on July 29, adding that he does not have information on the status of the sixth detained administrator, Ali Ahmadnia.
The six admins were arrested between March 14-16, 2017 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) during a crackdown on reformist journalists and civil rights activists in the run-up to Iran’s May 2017 elections.
While in custody they were forced to hand over control of their Telegram channels to the IRGC, which deleted all the content.
A month later, the judiciary accused Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, who was appointed by President Hassan Rouhani, of colluding with the detained admins.
Used by an estimated 40 million people in Iran, the Telegram messaging application has emerged in Iran as a powerful online tool for sharing and spreading information and news.
Users are increasingly turning to the app before elections in Iran for uncensored news about moderate and reformist camps, which are often drowned out by conservatives or censored from appearing in state-funded news outlets.
The Rouhani government’s refusal to censor or block Telegram has been met with scorn by powerful conservatives.
“The Telegram case will go to trial on August 13, 14 and 15 presided by Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court,” said Mojtahedzadeh.
“The accusations mentioned in their case are related to their activities in support of the [Rouhani] government,” Mojtahedzadeh told ILNA on June 21. “You cannot accuse people of acting against national security when they are cooperating with the government.”
The admins managed channels including Havadaran Rouhani (Supporters of Rouhani), Zendehbad Eslahat (Long Live Reform), Daneshjooyan Eslahtalab (Reformist Students) and Hamian Khatami Dar Yazd (supporters of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami in Yazd).
After a number of reformist members of Iran’s Parliament demanded an explanation for the arrests, Intelligence Minister Alavi said the Rouhani government did not approve of the arrests by the IRGC, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“The government opposes these arrests and believes the matter should be peacefully resolved and the admins of telegram channels should go free,” said Alavi after a cabinet meeting on April 5.
Shortly after the admins were arrested, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) obtained an Instagram photo showing the minister posing with some of the detainees. The Instagram account has since been shut down.
Administrators of popular news-focused social media and web sites in Iran customarily meet with government officials as both sides try to win support and access.
Hosseini Naghavi Hosseini, a member of the parliamentary Committee for National Security and Foreign Policy Affairs, declared on June 7 that one of the detained Telegram admins managed a channel for Intelligence Minister Alavi. CHRI could not independently verify this claim.
“Regarding this particular case, there are matters that relate to the intelligence minister himself and therefore he cannot comment on this case or prepare a report about it,” said judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei on April 12.
“I don’t know of any crime the admins may have committed for which I share responsibility,” said Alavi in response to the allegation, adding, “It looks like they may have been arrested because of me.”