More than 30 people have been targeted by the cyber crime unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) this month, including a dozen arrested for their “immoral” activities on Facebook.
In a surveillance operation code-named “Ankaboot” (Spider) aimed at identifying and rooting out Facebook pages and activities that spread “corruption” and western-inspired lifestyles, the IRGC claimed it had gathered data from Facebook to monitor eight million “likes” by Iranian users. It warned that more arrests would be made following the completion of investigations into users on Instagram, Viber, and WhatsApp in the next two months.
Mostafa Alizadeh, an IRGC cyber expert, told Iranian state TV on March 3 that in addition to the 12 Facebook-related arrests, 24 other Iranian citizens had been summoned for questioning for their online activities.
Accusations against those arrested include “insulting Islam,” “publishing immoral and corrupt material,” and “encouraging individuals to commit immoral acts.”
In his TV interview, Alizadeh said the suspects had spread moral corruption and were “on a mission to change family-oriented lifestyles.”
No information has been officially released about the suspects, except for the initials of two of the arrested Facebook users, “M.Y.” and “A.R.”
In the IRGC statement “M.Y.” is accused of managing close to 20 popular pages on Facebook with “immoral” content and having a network of “strong connections” with similar pages. So far none of the offending pages have been specified.
The statement also accused “M.Y.” of lampooning “the most sacred Islamic values” in his Facebook posts.
Another accusation against “M.Y.” is that he had set up fake pages on Facebook under the names of Iranian celebrities and football stars.
According to the Daneshjoo News website, “M.Y.” is Mohammad Yousefi, 27, a ship-building engineering student at Amir Kabir University in Tehran who was arrested by security forces about two months ago. A source told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that Yousefi was released on bail of approximately US$90,000 on March 9, after two months in detention inside the IRGC’s Ward 2-A at Evin Prison. Since his January 10 arrest, Yousefi has been under pressure to make televised confessions, according to the source.
Yousefi previously spent 161 days in jail in connection with his activities following the disputed 2009 presidential election.