“With a legitimate appearance and seemingly legal activities, this gang carried out several projects and plans for the foreign-residing anti-revolutionaries, specifically the BBC Persian Service, including designing and implementing the Green Voice of Freedom Website for the Heads of Sedition”—the Iranian officials’ way of referring to the 2009 post-election protests and opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi—”after the 2009 Sedition,” said Ali Tavaokoli, Head of the Kerman Judiciary, during a press conference on January 6.
Tavakoli also claimed that this “gang” of “enemy cyber activists” has received financial assistance from London through several intermediaries under the pretense of helping charities, and that the group’s manager has traveled to several countries, including Malaysia, India, and Afghanistan, as a coach and teacher, “funded by British intelligence organizations.”
Citing the detainees’ confessions as evidence, Tavakoli stated, “According to the arrested members’ confessions, these individuals were supposed to publish their inductions and doubts into society, riding on the wave of social friction.”
The Head of the Kerman Judiciary emphasized that there will be “maximum punishment” for such individuals, although no trials have taken place and the suspects have not yet had a chance to defend themselves. “These individuals, who implemented propaganda against the Islamic Republic regime and acted against the regime knowingly and objectively based on the plans of sworn enemies of this country, deserve the harshest punishment,” said Ali Tavakoli.
Narenji, a popular website specializing in computer and Internet technology, announced on December 3, 2013, that seven members of its editorial and technical team, Ali Asghar Honarmand, Abbas Vahedi, Alireza Vaziri, Nassim Nikmehr, Maliheh Naghaei Mohammad Hossein Mousazadeh, and Sara Sajadpour, had been arrested by the Intelligence Unit of the IRGC in Kerman. The next day, Kerman’s Deputy Prosecutor announced the arrests of 16 website designers and Internet professionals in Kerman Province, stating the charges facing the group of individuals “who worked within a complex security-media network” were “committing cyber crimes and relations with foreigners.”
On December 22, 2013, the Kerman IRGC issued a statement boasting that “the Kerman Province Sarallah Army’s Intelligence Unit cyber forces” had hacked nine websites of “enemies of the sacred Islamic Republic” in a “widespread technical operation in virtual space.” In its statement, the IRGC’s Sarallah Army announced that “these enemy websites, which had been designed with the cost of millions and support from domestic seditionists, became completely inaccessible.” The hacked sites were listed as Green Voice of Freedom, Ostanban, 30Mail, and Norooz News, among others. There is speculation that the Kerman detainees may have been coerced to participate in the hacking operation.
Immediately after Ali Tavakoli’s statements were published, the Green Voice of Freedom website announced that it does not have any partners in Iran, and expressed concern about forced confessions and the conditions of the detainees.
The BBC’s Persian Service has repeatedly stated that it has no staff or presence in Iran. In 2012, during another wave of journalist arrests in Iran, the director of BBC Persian TV told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “BBC would like to reiterate that its Persian language service does not have a presence in Iran. No staff whatsoever, no reporters, no stringers. Any confessions [to that effect] broadcast will be completely baseless, false, and pre-planned, and would have been taken under coercion.”