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Iranian asylum seeker Yashar Khameneh (right) with his father, who he says has been imprisoned over his son's Internet activities
A young asylum seeker in Holland says authorities in Iran are retaliating against his family over his contributions to a Facebook page that satirizes a Shi'ite imam.

Twenty-five-year-old Yashar Khameneh says that due to his online activities, his father has been jailed and threatened with execution.

“My father has been in jail for the past five weeks, and his only crime is that he is my father,” Khameneh says.

The Persian-language page, called “The Campaign to Remind Shi’ites about Imam Naghi,” satirizes political and religious topics -- from the rights of women in Islam, to sanctions against Iran, to Facebook itself -- and attributes them to the 10th Imam of the Shi’ites.

Khameneh insists he's not in charge of the page.

A Facebook page called "The Campaign to Remind Shi’ites about Imam Naghi" that satirizes Iranian religious and political topics
A Facebook page called "The Campaign to Remind Shi’ites about Imam Naghi" that satirizes Iranian religious and political topics

More than 21,000 people have "liked" the it, while others in Iran say they often visit it but refrain from "liking" for fear of being identified. It was being "talked about" by around 4,000 Facebook users on June 28.

The page's popularity has made it a thorn in the side of Iranian authorities. Hard-liners have condemned the page and called on the government to take action against it. Last year, hard-line blogs posted the names and pictures of several Iranians inside the country who had "liked" the page.

Khameneh says he has written satire for the page under a pen name and also created several YouTube videos to promote it. He believes the page helps "break taboos."

WATCH: One of Khameneh's videos (warning: graphic images):



Khameneh says Iranian authorities have accused his father of sending him money for his “antireligious activities." He says his father has merely been supporting his studies in Europe.

The pressure, he says, does not stop there. Khameneh claims his father was arrested on May 26 and that security officials told the elder Khameneh that he will remain in jail -- or worse -- unless the page is shut down.

"Two weeks ago, my father called home [from prison] and said that he is under a lot of pressure," Khameneh says. "He was apparently in a very bad state. He told [the family], 'Tell Yashar to provide all the information he has or else I might not remain alive.'"

Khameneh says that based on a request from the authorities holding his father, he sent a video to Iran expressing regret over his actions. When that failed to secure his father's release, Khameneh says, he decided to publicize the case by issuing an open letter describing the pressure against his family.

Not The First

While Iranian authorities are notoriously tight-lipped about detentions in general and Khameneh's story cannot be independently verified, it would not be the first of its kind.

Hadi Ghaemi of the U.S.-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says Khameneh's account is "quite plausible."

"In the past three years, the Iranian government has invested heavily in monitoring the online activities of Iranians both inside the country and abroad and in trying to control to the online medium in various forms to prevent it from becoming a public forum for criticism or dissent," Ghaemi says.

Ghaemi also says his organization is looking into Khameneh's case.

Prominent rapper Shahin Najafi, who says he was inspired by the page, has received death threats over his song "Naghi," which also lampoons the imam.

'Gone Missing'

A number of people have reportedly been sentenced to jail in Iran in recent months over postings on Facebook. Officials from Iran’s cyberpolice said in January that they had arrested the administrators of a Facebook page that was attempting to organize an online beauty contest.

Khameneh tells RFE/RL that Iranian officials have asked for the passwords to his e-mail and Facebook accounts and for access to his blog. They also requested the password to the Facebook page, as well as for information about its other members, Khameneh claims.

He says authorities who he believes are affiliated with the Iranian Intelligence Ministry have also asked him to return to Iran.

He fears that some Iran-based members of the page may have already been arrested.

“My father said in one of his phone calls to home that he has seen several members of the Facebook campaign in jail and that they have all said I am in charge of the page," Khameneh says, adding that that's untrue. "But it worries me that others have been caught, too. Around the time when my father was arrested, a number of people who would write on the page went missing."
Egyptian President-elect Muhammad Morsi speaks during his first televised address to the nation in Cairo on June 24.
One day after Muhammad Morsi was declared the winner of Egypt’s presidential election, Iran’s Fars news agency issued an alleged interview with him in which the president-elect expressed interest in strengthening ties with Tehran.

The controversial piece, in which Morsi was also quoted as saying that he wants to reconsider Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, was quickly picked up by major news outlets, including Reuters, "The Christian Science Monitor," and the Israeli daily "Haaretz."

It seemed to be quite a scoop for the semi-official news agency, which claimed its reporter spoke to Morsi a few hours before he was declared the victor. Fars, however, didn't get to enjoy the coup for long. The veracity of the interview was questioned by several news organizations, including BBC Arabic and Al-Arabiyah, which quoted a Morsi spokesman as denying that he spoke with Fars. Egypt's official MENA news agency would later also report that the interview was false.

But perhaps more significantly, Iran's official state-run news agency, IRNA, was also quick to cast doubt on the interview. The incident provides the latest example of how the ongoing power struggle in the Iranian establishment has apparently pitted IRNA, which is pro-President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, against Fars, which is said to be affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

A screen grab from the Fars website of its alleged interview with Egyptian President-elect Muhammad Morsi
A screen grab from the Fars website of its alleged interview with Egyptian President-elect Muhammad Morsi
Like BBC Arabic and Al-Arabiyah, IRNA reported that Morsi’s spokesman said in a statement that the president-elect had not conducted any interview with Fars before or after his victory. IRNA also claimed that an audio file of the alleged interview made available by Fars on its website was not Morsi's voice at all.

Fars, meanwhile, refused to back down, linking on its website to the extensive coverage the story received in regional and international media.

The hard-line news agency also attacked IRNA, branding the state news agency as aligned with "antirevolutionary" media for trying to denounce the interview and its "key and valuable points."

In recent months, Fars articles have attacked Ahmadinejad's inner circle, which hard-liners describe as a deviant current in Iranian politics.

Not to be outdone, IRNA last week issued a list of what it called "continued gaffes by Fars," which it said can lead to "security misunderstandings" inside the Islamic republic.

The list includes a Fars story about a large joint military exercise by Iran, China, Russia, and Syria that was allegedly to include 90,000 troops and hundreds of ships, tanks, and warplanes. Syria and China later denied the report.

IRNA also accused Fars of having fabricated a 2011 interview with former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Muhammad ElBaradei. His office also denied the interview.

In February, Fars fabricated references to Iran's sensitive nuclear program in its coverage of Iranian film director Asghar Farhadi's acceptance speech at the Oscars.

Some Iranians refer to the agency as "False news" or "Farce news."

Meanwhile, in the United States, a reporter asked State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland for her reaction to the alleged interview. Washington is wary of Iranian influence in the Middle East and is working to ensure that the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty survives the political transition in Cairo.

"Well, obviously we look forward to talking to President-elect [Muhammad] Morsi and his whole government about Egypt's relationships in the neighborhood going forward [and] its upholding of all of its international obligations, including obligations vis-a-vis Iran," Nuland said. "But that said, I wouldn't believe everything that you read on Fars."

IRNA, it seems, has found a rare point of agreement with the U.S. government.

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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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