Since 2008, the Iranian Writers Association has declared December 3 Anti-Censorship Day. Each year the association, its members and many Iranians remember the chain murders, which took between 1988 and 1998, along with the murders of many other writers, translators, poets, and political activists over the decades.
Many of these murders took place in the 1980s and 1990s, and were carried out by the security services of the Islamic Republic. Planned car accidents, stabbings, shootings and potassium injections to cause heart attacks were all features of the gruesome chain murders, which struck at the heart of Iran’s cultural communities.
Pirooz Davani, Majid Sharif, Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, all members of the Writers Association, were killed between September and December 1998. Dariush Forouhar and his wife, Parvaneh Eskandari Forouhar, high-profile political activists and critics of the government, were murdered on November 22, 1998. The murders sparked a profound crisis in Iranian society and for the regime of the Islamic Republic.
As with many assassinations carried out by the regime, the series of killings known as the chain murders did not really have a definite end because those who ordered the killings were never identified and when the perpetrators — Ministry of Intelligence agents – were identified and brought to court, they did not face even the slightest punishment.
Eventually, the reign of terror did come to an end, and society emerged, scarred but able to operate under a little less fear. And yet, writers, journalists, and dissidents continue to endure censorship, suppression, long prison sentences and even murder.
In the last month alone, many journalists, writers and citizens have been arrested simply for writing or posting about topics security officials in the Islamic Republic did not like.
Mehdi Mahmoudian, a journalist and member of the Association for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights, was summoned to the Culture and Media Court following a complaint from the Revolutionary Guards, and arrested on Tuesday, December 1, 2020.
Over the past year, he had been summoned several times for interrogation and had been sentenced to one year in prison in September 2020 for a previous case and charged with "propaganda activities against the regime." The journalist's most recent arrest followed his reports that journalists from state-run Islamic Republic News Agency were interrogated after they conducted an interview with Habibollah Sayari, the deputy coordinator for the Iranian Army. Mahmoudian has since been transferred to Evin Prison and further details on his case are not known.
Vida Rabbani, the correspondent for the weekly Seda, was arrested by security agents on November 22. The reason for her arrest is not known.
Also on November 28, the Writers Association announced that Amin Moradi, one of its members, had also been arrested. Security agents raided the poet and writer's home, confiscated his personal belongings including laptops, cell phones and books, and took him to Evin Prison. In this case, as in many others, security and judicial officials have not responded to queries about why he had been detained, including from Amin Moradi's family and friends.
Mehrnoosh Tafian, a journalist based in Ahvaz, was summoned to court, arrested and sent to prison on December 1 following a complaint from the Revolutionary Guards. Various sources have cited Tafian’s coverage of protests in the village of Abolfazl near Ahvaz as the reason for his arrest. The Foundation for the Oppressed of the Islamic Revolution, led by Parviz Fattah and under the supervision of the Supreme Leader, began destroying houses in the village in August, claiming that it owned the land. The foundation’s remit is to improve the lives of Iran’s poorest and most underprivileged people.
Hamed Pourmand, a sports journalist from Gonbad-e Kavous, was arrested on December 1 on charges including "defamation" and "spreading lies" following a complaint from the manager of Sabah factory. Pourmand is a director for the Boycott Sabah Golestan campaign, which was launched by ethnic Turkmen people from Gonbad, Aqqala, Bandar-e-Turkmen and Kalaleh in the last month. The campaign has accused the Sabah factory director of buying milk from local farmers below market prices, leading to the bankruptcy and destitution of many of these farmers.
Aniseh Jafari Mehr is a member of the editorial board of the J quarterly and Dariush Moradi is a writer for the cultural website Hesareh.
The two writers were allowed only to inform their families that they were in prison and could not give them further information.
Press photographer Negar Masoudi was arrested on November 28. According to her relatives, she was arrested because she photographed victims of a series of acid attacks in Isfahan in October 2014. At least seven women were attacked in the city for the way they wore their hijabs, which numerous extremists had labeled "bad hijab.” In the past, the Friday prayers leader for Isfahan has made comments suggesting he supports vigilante activism against women who do not dress according to strict Islamic guidelines. Masoudi's photographs and videos have served as a symbol for women's justice and helped to document the suffering they have endured.
Maryam Ebrahimvand, a documentary filmmaker and screenwriter, was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison for her documentaries.
Abolhassan Kamali, a poet and writer from Yasuji, was sentenced to seven months of house arrest, given an electronic tag and ordered to attend Friday prayers.
Charges have also been filed against the Entekhab news website and its director Mostafa Faghihi.
People publishing and reporting on apps have also been targeted, including two people in Sari for their work on Telegram channels, an Instagram page administrator based in the city of Nour in Mazandaran Province. Another person in Yazd was arrested for running a Telegram group and charged with "disturbing public opinion.”
An individual from Gonbad city, Golestan province, was arrested for managing an Instagram page about fashion models; Ezedin Hashemi and Vali Ghelichi, two managers for the Voice of the Desert Telegram and news channel were also arrested in Kalaleh.
The most high-profile case has been that of Ruhollah Zam, the director of Amad News Telegram channel, who has been sentenced to death.
The above list is just those people arrested in the last month, from November 4 to December 4, or whose arrests were announced during that period.
On December 3, Anti-Censorship Day, the Iranian Writers Association also raised awareness that the following Iranian journalists and writers continue to serve prison sentences on a range of different charges: Alieh Motabzadeh, Ashraf Nefri, Shabnam Ashouri, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajen, Soheil Arabi, Kiomars Marzban, Khosrow Sadeghi Boroujeni, Mostafa Mohebkia, Hassan Fathi and Hamid Haghjoo.
In the Islamic Republic, it is commonplace for arrests to be carried out and people be detained without reports ever being made public. Often, security agencies apply pressure on their families not to speak to the press or anyone else about the incarceration of their loved ones.
Security agencies in Iran, often spurred on by the judiciary, carry out multiple arrests of dissidents, journalists, activists — anyone they regard as having contradictory ideas or beliefs to the Islamic Republic — on a monthly, or even weekly, basis. It appears, too, that the worse the economic and social situation is in Iran and the higher the level of public dissatisfaction with the government, the greater the number of security crackdowns on writers, journalists and citizens active on social networks.