Reformist Journalist Not Heard From Two Weeks After Arrest in Tehran
Several Journalists Arrested in 2017 for Alleged Connections With Amad News
“It has been ten days since he was detained and he has not made a single phone call. We don’t know if he’s okay or not. His family is very worried,” a source close Aghaei told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on August 21. “The family was finally given permission to visit him in prison on August 16, but when they got there, the authorities said he was not allowed to see anyone.”
The political columnist is being held in Evin Prison’s Ward 241—controlled by the judiciary’s intelligence branch—on suspicion of collaborating with the independent Amad News outlet on the Telegram messaging network, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CHRI.
“They say he is being held in connection with Amad News, even though he’s a licensed journalist and editor of a newspaper and has nothing to do with that site,” said the source.
The source also criticized the security forces for treating Aghaei like he’s a threat to society.
“While raiding the newspaper’s office, the security forces had also stationed men outside Sasan’s house and his father’s house, too, as if they were trying to catch a dangerous criminal,” said the source. “Yet the authorities knew where he worked and lived.”
“He was not in hiding,” added the source. “They should have sent him a warrant. But they arrested him, searched both his and his father’s home and took away personal things like books, handwritten pages, and his computer hard drive.”
With more than half a million followers, Amad News is one of the most popular Iranian-content channels on the Telegram app. Run by anonymous staff under the motto “Awareness, Struggle, Democracy,” the channel frequently publicizes reformist political views.
On July 18, 2017, former Minister of Telecommunications Mahmoud Vaezi admitted he had tried to block Amad News in Iran, but Telegram refused to cooperate with the demand.
“We are in contact with officials at Telegram, but they refuse to shut down political channels,” said Vaezi during a meeting with a group of conservative members of Iran’s Parliament.
“For instance, we, like you, would like to see Amad News shut down,” he added. “They criticize the Telecommunications Ministry the most.”
Aghaei’s arrest in August 2017 marks the fourth time he has been detained by the authorities for engaging in his profession.
Aghaei was previously arrested in January 2013 during a crackdown led by security forces on Iranian citizens who had allegedly cooperated with Persian-language media based abroad. He was released soon after without charge.
Aghaei was also arrested on November 22, 2009 for defending protests against the outcome of that year’s widely disputed presidential election.
Held for 128 days in Evin Prison, he was sentenced to a year in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court for “propaganda against the state.” However, the sentence was not carried out and Aghaei was released on 50 million tomans ($15,300 USD) bail.
Prior to that Aghaei was arrested in 2002 during a rally to commemorate the July 1999 student uprising at Tehran University. He was released 15 days later without charge after being held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison’s Ward 240, controlled by the Intelligence Ministry.