Arrested at Tehran Airport on 11 May 2008, Vahid Asghari, an Information Technology student in India, has been in "temporary detention" for close to four years. Yesterday, January 7, 2012, Vahid Asghari was sentenced to death by Branch 15 of Tehran Revolutionary Court with Judge Salavati presiding.
Ever since its creation by the Revolutionary Guards in March 2009, the Organized Crime Surveillance Center has played an active role in tracking down and arresting outspoken netizens.
Shortly after its creation, the center announced the dismantling of a “malevolent” online network in March 2009 and the arrests of several website moderators. Their photos and “confessions” were posted on the centre’s website, Gerdab (www.gerdab.ir), a few days later. They reportedly admitted to links with websites that criticized Islam and the government, and to their intention of “misleading” Iranian youth by publicizing porn sites. They also confessed to participating in a plot supported by the Americans and Israelis.
On 17 June 2009, two days after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection triggered a wave of street protests, the center issued a communiqué announcing that it had noted “several cases of websites and personal blogs posting articles inciting disturbances of public order and urging the population to rebel.”
Detainees have been subjected to long periods of solitary confinement and to torture to obtain confessions that are used in their trials. Asghari, a leading target of the “network dismantling” policy, is one of the victims of such abuses. Aged 24 and an ICT student in India, he was arrested on 11 May 2008 at Tehran airport for possessing several credit cards.
He was held in solitary confinement for seven month and was mistreated and tortured to make him confess to organizing a pornographic network that blasphemed Islam and criticized the government in order to pervert Iranian youth. And what was Asghari’s crime? Hosting websites, including the sites of government opponents.
“I was beaten with a stick for hours and hours while blindfolded and handcuffed,” he wrote in a letter to the president of the 15th chamber of the Revolutionary Court on 17 October 2009. “With a knife against my throat, I was threatened with death and rape. I and my family were insulted. I was forced to make a confession and sign it. They then videoed my confession and broadcast the video with the national television station’s complicity although I was legally presumed to be innocent.”
According to article 168 of the constitution, defendants prosecuted on political charges should be given public, jury trials but most of the trials have been held behind closed doors. Their lawyers are often sidelined and denied access to the case files and in some cases defendants were not told they had been tried and condemned. Asghari said in his letter: “I have never seen my lawyer and, even in court, I did not have the right to say hello to him.”
Asghari also wrote: “I was alleged to have received money from abroad as a result of Google advertising on the websites I hosted. I was accused of insulting the Shiite Imams and the Prophet because of their content. And I was forced to say that Hossein Derakhshan was an agent of both the Iranian ministry of intelligence and the CIA.”
UPDATE: On Saturday, February 11, 2012 imprisoned death row blogger Vahid Asghari was transferred to solitary confinement and under severe duress was coerced into making another false confession.
After the death sentence was handed down, agents from the Cyber Intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Court intimidated Vahid into taking part in the recent televised confession in exchange for a promise of a reduced sentencing and a transfer to the public ward of Evin prison.