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Exclusive: Hacktivist Group Aims To 'Expose The True Face Of The Regime' In Iran


Guards drag an emaciated prisoner at Evin prison in Tehran.

A hacktivist group calling itself Edalat-e Ali (Ali's Justice) has rocked the Iranian establishment in recent months by leaking videos and confidential documents that appear to show the systematic mistreatment of inmates at Iran's most notorious prison.

But to this point the group has revealed little about its makeup or goals.

Now, in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Edalat-e Ali has for the first time said that it is composed of Iranians living and working inside Iran, is intent on exposing alleged human rights abuses in the country, and seeks the release of political prisoners.

The alleged abusive practices at Tehran's Evin prison exposed by Edalat-e Ali prompted outcry from rights groups outside the country. It also forced an admission of the veracity of a raft of leaked videos and even an apology from Iran's authorities.

But the leaks also led to speculation from Iran observers that the hacktivist group might be working from abroad, and possibly at the behest of an unidentified foreign state.

Edalat-e Ali rebutted that suggestion in an interview with RFE/RL last week, while expounding on its aims and the help it gets in revealing alleged prison abuses from "compatriots" inside Iran.

The group answered written questions from RFE/RL by way of an established contact using a secure messaging app. The hacking group has used the channel to share videos and documents with RFE/RL in recent months.

While senior Iranian officials have confirmed the authenticity of the string of videos leaked by Edalat-e Ali, which were also shared with other media outlets beginning in late August, there has been no public reaction to confidential documents disclosed to RFE/RL earlier this month.

"Our goal is to expose the regime's inhumane activities against the Iranian people and not allow the regime to hide," the group said in written comments. "We want the release of political prisoners."

The footage that Edalat-e Ali obtained through hacked CCTV cameras inside Evin prison show a host of abuses, including overcrowding and other inhumane conditions in cells, and assaults on prisoners by guards and other inmates.

Tehran Prison Abuse Revealed In Security Footage Leak
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The footage -- which included what appeared to be scenes of an incapacitated elderly inmate being dragged up a flight of stairs and scenes from within the prison's control room -- led to an apology from the head of Iran's penal system and an investigation.

Iranian Prisons Organization head Mohammad Mehdi Hajmohammadi wrote in an August 24 tweet that he personally accepted responsibility for the "unacceptable behavior" exposed by the videos and was committed to working to prevent a repeat of such "tragic events."

Iran's top judiciary official, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, ordered an investigation and state media affiliated with political hard-liners said the results of the probe should be published.

Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the head of Iran's judiciary
Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the head of Iran's judiciary

The confidential documents that Edalat-e Ali subsequently released, meanwhile, detailed how Evin prison authorities allegedly took harsh steps to break hunger strikes by prominent prisoners, including the denial of visitation rights and the blockage of phone access.

"These confidential documents from inside Evin prison are conclusive evidence of human rights violations and cannot be ignored," Edalat-e Ali told RFE/RL. "They are evidence of the Iranian people's cry for international attention and human rights, revealing the true face of the regime and [President] Ebrahim Raisi," an ultraconservative who was the former judiciary head, the group added.

Asked about prison official Hajmohammadi's admission of responsibility, Edalat-e Ali described his apology as "crocodile tears." "Our success and determination to expose [prison abuse to] the world was such that it did not give the regime a chance to deny, conceal, or lie," the group said, adding that Hajmohammadi had no choice but to apologize.

"Did they change their attitude toward the prisoners the day after the apology?" the group asked. "Did he [Hajmohammadi] release the political prisoners who are being held without an honest trial?"

The real reason for the apology, Edalat-e Ali suggested, was because authorities "failed to secure and protect its computer systems against our cyberattack."

The hacktivist group also dismissed suggestions that it might be a foreign operation working under the guise of an Iranian one. "We, an Iranian group, are determined to reveal the true face of this regime in any way, using all our capabilities and those of our allies," the group said. "We, the people of Iran, must think for ourselves and not give anyone the opportunity to decide for us and our future."

Edalat-e Ali went on to explain that the videos it provided to RFE/RL and other media outlets were "obtained by hacking into the computer systems of Evin prison, and we could not have been successful without the cooperation and help of our very brave compatriots who risked their lives."

Written by Michael Scollon based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
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