Ali-Asghar Honarmand, an Iranian journalist and founder of the tech news website Narenji (Orange), has been released from prison after eight years. In a tweet announcing his return Wednesday, Honarmand wrote: “Hello world! The first tweet in eight years... What happened to us is indescribable.”
Founded in 2007 and operated by a group of bloggers from a small office in Kerman, Narenji.ir was formerly one of the most popular specialist news websites in Iran. It was first set up to help familiarize people with new technologies in their daily lives, later winning the “most informative website” gong at the 2010 Online Festival of Iranian Websites, and the 2012 award for best Persian-language blog by Deutsche Welle.
Then on December 3, 2013, agents of the IRGC’s Sarollah Headquarters detained Honarmand and 13 other staffers in a mass arrest. In May 2014, Honarmand was sentenced to 11 years on prison on the official charge of “propaganda against the regime” and "acting against national security”. Three others received shorter jail sentences and seven more were hit with suspended sentences.
The group had been accused in court of “taking their cues from fugitive dissidents”. The site’s parent company, Pat Shargh Govashir Technology, was alleged to have built websites for individuals aligned to the pro-democracy Green Movement. Lawyers argued in court that even if staff had fulfilled such a function, there was no evidence to support the actual charges against them.
Honarmand was also a former trainee on the BBC World Service Trust's award-winning journalism development programme, ZigZag. This was used against him in the case, with lawyers claiming he had received financial assistance from London for anti-regime activities. Years later, outlets close to the IRGC used this to link him, again without evidence, to the fabricated “espionage” activities pinned to British-Iranian hostage Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Nazanin was also released from Evin Prison yesterday after almost six years.
Little has been publicly reported about Honarmand’s time in prison. His appeal was heard at Branch 1 of Kerman Justice Department in November 2015, but it was then reported that he, Hossein Nozari, Ehsan Paknejad and Abbas Vahedi had been transferred to Kerman Prison to serve their sentences, before being notified of the outcome.
“I wish good health and happiness to all free people,” Ali-Asghar Honarmand wrote in the digital greeting on Wednesday. “Life goes on...”