IranWire has learned that Iranian security forces arrested internet entrepreneur Arash Zad over a month ago and took him to an unknown location. The arrest took place at Tehran’s Khomeini International Airport on August 1 as Zad was about to board a plane for Istanbul, where he currently lives.
Arash Zad is the editor of the Persian-language website Weblogina, an online magazine focusing on information technology innovations. He is also the director of Zigzag Lab, which advertises its mission as the creation of “high quality web products, online services and digital experiences for our Iranian users.” The company offers “email automation tool for e-commerce businesses” and includes a startup called Ladybug “that aspires to produce a generation of women in Iran who are enthusiastic about and active in different technological fields.”
In 2014 Ladybug won the United Nation's Youth Award, a “global contest which brings together young developers and digital entrepreneurs — under 30 years of age — who use internet and mobile technology to put the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) into action and make a difference.”
The award’s site describes Ladybug as “an Iranian startup for a new generation of women enthusiastic about and active in different technological fields. Ladybug has a young team of managers all under 30 living in Iran. In only 12 months, like-minded partners came together and invested in video-making, promotional photos and the overall design, leading Ladybug to successfully catch the attention of the public.”
Arash Zad was also about to launch a project to create workshops for older people to teach them how to use new communication tools and how to secure their communications. The idea was a response to the extensive exodus of journalists and activists from Iran and the difficulties that their families encounter when they want to communicate with them.
Now, with Zad’s arrest, it is not clear whether this project will go ahead. Though the reasons for his arrest and the charges against him are not known, internet activists believe that his detention signals new efforts by Islamic Republic to control the internet, technology innovators — and of course online activity.
Zad has now been in detention for a month; his family has chosen to remain silent. His whereabouts remain a mystery and the authorities have failed to officially confirm his arrest.
“Arash frequently travelled to Iran,” says a former colleague. “He participated in international conferences including iBRIDGES [a conference on technology entrepreneurship in Iran] in Berlin in June 2015. His projects were not problematic in themselves, but it is likely that the contacts and connections he has made led to his arrest.”
Economic officials in the Rouhani administration have frequently spoken about the importance of internet startups in creating jobs and helping the economy. But now the arrest of Arash Zad, one of Iran’s most innovative internet entrepreneurs, has only added to the suspicion that these opportunities are not open to all.
In 2013, immediately after Hassan Rouhani began his presidency, the Revolutionary Guards arrested a number of people active on the website Narenji (“Orange”). Established in 2007, Narenji championed information technology and innovations. In 2010, a domestic competition announced that Narenji was the best website on the country’s internet industry. In 2012, German national broadcasting company Deutsche Welle presented Narenji with an award for the best Persian-language blog.
Following the arrests of the Narenji group, the prosecutor accused them of activities against national security by cooperating with “foreign networks” and helping “counter-revolutionary” sites, using both form and content to try to “overthrow” the Islamic Republic.
As of now, it is not known whether the same charges will be leveled against Arash Zad, or whether a different set of charges will apply.