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Society & Culture

The Dreaded Text Message: “Consider This Your Last Security Warning”

July 2, 2016
Shima Shahrabi
4 min read
“Consider This Your Last Security Warning”: a text message sent to  journalists and political prisoners' families
“Consider This Your Last Security Warning”: a text message sent to journalists and political prisoners' families

The following is the translation of a text message sent to several Iranian journalists, activists and family members of political prisoners over the past two days:

“Warning: Any communication or cooperation with hostile elements outside the country through email, secure portals and other means of communication is a crime and will be prosecuted. It is necessary to stop communicating. Consider this your last security warning.”

The source of the message is unclear, but it comes from a private number. Those using the Android app “imo messenger” saw a picture of a man under the pseudonym “Golbedin.”

“When I received the text message,” a journalist tells IranWire, “I replied, ‘You are?’ The reply was, ‘This is your last warning. Our next step is taking action.’” The sender then forwarded the previous text message again.

Another journalist reports that, ahead of February 2016 parliamentary elections, journalists were harassed in a similar manner. “The email, Facebook and even Telegram accounts of many journalists were hacked,” he says. “They also received many phishing emails from intelligence and security agencies.” A phishing email is a message designed to trick the recipient into revealing personal information such as passwords.

One tactic, says a journalist who reports on information technology, was to send journalists emails with subjects that indicated urgent or important news. “When they opened the attachment, a PowerPoint screen would appear, but the PowerPoint presentation contained code that monitored their emails.”

The Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit, he says, has also been doing its best to get hold of users’ 4-digit passcodes for the Telegram app, and has written a program to try to break the passcodes.

In recent years, authorities have frequently charged journalists with “communication with hostile media.” Islamic Republic officials use the term “hostile media” for Persian-language media outlets that are based outside the country and are therefore not subject to censorship.

Last winter, the journalists Ehsan Mazandarani, Saman Safarzai, Afrin Chitsaz and Isa Saharkhiz were arrested and accused of belonging to an “infiltration network” and of “communicating with hostile media.” Davoud Asadi, the brother of the journalist Hooshang Asadi, was arrested at the same time as his brother and was charged along similar lines.


Going beyond Journalists

Apart from journalists, other groups such as student activists, children’s rights activists, and even a number of publishers have received the same text message, albeit from different phone numbers.

The families of political prisoners, meanwhile, have received the message from the same number the journalists have identified.

There is a common pattern when it comes to officials’ treatment of political prisoners’ families. “From the first day of the arrest,” a family member says, “the interrogator keeps telling the family that if they don’t tell the media about the case, it will be closed sooner, but that if they talk to the BBC, Voice of America or any other outside media outlet, the situation will get worse.”

Many families of political prisoners, stay silent after their loved one's arrest in hope that the person will receive an early release. “I did not give any interviews,” says one family member, “but I posted information about my son on Facebook. I got a phone call from the prison. The interrogator told me that the situation would get worse if I continued writing about it on Facebook.”

The family member points out that domestic Iranian media do not publish any news about political prisoners or the conditions under which they are being held. “We cannot tell the people and the authorities about the injustices done to our loved ones through domestic media, so we talk to the media that publishes what is in our hearts. Now they are threatening us.”

A number of journalists who have received the threatening text message have posted snapshots of it on social networks. Some government agencies, such as the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the Intelligence Ministry, and even the president’s office say that they have looked into the text messages but have not discovered their source. A few government officials have promised journalists that they will pursue the matter.

“I will file an official complaint against the sender of the text message,” says a journalist who posted a snapshot of the message on the Internet. “I hope that my colleagues will join me and that the authorities will pursue the matter.”

A number of journalists and civil activists who have received the text message plan to file a complaint with the Islamic Republic Cyber Police against the owners of the phone numbers used to send the message. Apart from an end to threats, they want a clear answer to the question on all their minds: Who sent it?


July 1, 2016

The question begs to be asked: Why do some Iranian citizens communicate with foreign media such as VOA and BBC? Clearly those news outlets have always been closely affiliated with foreign governments that are hostile to Iran and Iranian national interests, they aren't opposed just to the Islamic regime itself. So why would any Iranian want to communicate with an organisation like VOA that is so obviously propagandistic and hostile that it had no problem hosting someone like "Doctor" Abdolmalek Rigi and calling him a "resistance leader"? These news outlets are indeed hostile media. Their one and only purpose is spreading anti-Iranian propaganda no matter where it comes from, they aren't genuinely concerned with publishing what is "in people's hearts", since the foreign governments which they are serving do not themselves care about what is inside Iranian hearts, unless they can use that for advancing their own interests of course.

The treatment of prisoners in Iran is unacceptable, but that doesn't mean that communicating with Western propaganda machines in the height of the cold war between Iran and the West should be considered acceptable.
... read more

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