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Another Iranian Sentenced To Prison Over Facebook Activities

An Internet cafe in Tehran

An Internet cafe in Tehran

Several Iranian news websites are reporting that Mostafa Akhavan, a student pilot and member of the National Trust party (established by opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi in 2005) has been sentenced to one year in prison on security- related charges connected to his activities on Facebook.

The charges for which Akhavan has been sentenced reportedly include "acting against [Iran's] national security, propaganda against the Islamic establishment over chanting slogans on Facebook, dissemination of news related to the Green Movement, membership in Facebook, issuing calls for illegal gatherings, conducting interviews with overseas media, and sending e-mails and articles to websites and networks opposing the [Iranian] regime."

The website Daneshjouonline reports that Akhavan's prison sentence will not be enforced for five years because he had no prior convictions.

Akhavan's prison sentence is the second that has been reported in Iran recently connected to Facebook activities.

As we reported last week, another Iranian citizen, Houshang Fanaian, was sentenced in May to one year in prison for disseminating antistate propaganda on Facebook.

The prison sentences over Facebook activities could be an attempt by the authorities to spread fear and prevent citizens from engaging in political activities on Facebook.

Facebook is one of the main platforms on which Iranian opposition activists share news about the Green Movement, connect with each other, and discuss issues of interest, including sensitive topics that are banned or ignored in state media. Opposition protests are usually widely advertised on Facebook.

These activities and the relative freedom of speech and freedom of gathering that activists enjoy on Facebook seems to be of increasing concern to Iranian leaders, who have forcefully prevented these freedoms offline.

In recent years, authorities have increasingly turned their attention to all parts of cyberspace. They use it for their own purposes while pressuring those Iranians who criticize state policies or spread news about human rights abuses online.

Over the past several years, a number of online journalists have been jailed over their writings.

Last week, two bloggers -- Sakhi Riggi and Hossein Derakhshan -- were sentenced to 20 and 19 1/2 years in prison.

Authorities now appear to be paying more and more attention to the Facebook activities of opposition activists.

Like tens of thousands of other websites, Facebook is blocked in Iran. Lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei told RFE/RL's Radio Farda, however, that membership in Facebook is not a crime in the country.

"If that was the case, then Iranian officials, including legislators who have Facebook pages, should be put on trial," he said.

An Iranian cleric, Hojatoleslam Gharib Reza, said recently on state television that Iran uses Facebook to connect with its supporters around the world.

"Social networking sites and cyberspace are tools that were used in popular and real revolutions, and it was also used in revolutions that the U.S. was pushing in countries -- velvet revolutions," Reza said, referring to the role of social media in the Arab uprisings.

He added that social media is an opportunity that, if not used properly, can turn into a threat.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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