Iranian activist disappears after criticizing internet bill

Iranian activist disappears after criticizing internet bill

AP     |     Feb. 26, 2022

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An Iranian activist went missing after criticizing a proposed bill by hard-liners to implement highly restrictive internet policies, his family said Saturday.

Hossein Ronaghi, a blogger and free-speech activist, disappeared Wednesday after he criticized a bill in parliament to limit internet access in the country, known as the “Users Protection Bill.” The proposal has been criticized by many Iranians on social media.

There was no information on Ronaghi’s location or condition.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, said in March last year that social media in Iran is “unbridled” and it should not be “surrendered to the enemy.”

In a recent tweet, Ronaghi said: “The Protection Plan was a decision made by the entire system based on the demand from the Islamic Republic’s leader who had stated: ‘Virtual space must be controlled.’”

Ronaghi’s brother, Hassan, who also is an activist, said in a tweet that Hossein was kidnapped. He said his brother had received several anonymous phone calls in the days leading up to his disappearance.

Hassan Ronaghi also said his brother needs medical care because he is suffering diseases affecting several of his organs, including his kidneys.

“Anything that happens to Hossein is the responsibility of the Supreme Leaders’ office, the (Revolutionary Guard), and the judiciary.”

Reza Ronaghi, the father of the two brothers, said in an interview with Iranian foreign-base media on Wednesday that Khamenei was directly responsible for his son’s life.

A day after the first reports surfaced of his disappearance, human rights activists claimed that security forces came into Hossein Ronaghi’s home and and took a laptop and notebooks.

The language in the proposed internet legislation has yet to be finalized. But if implemented in its current form, it could lead to the disruption of international internet services and websites — like Instagram — that have not yet been blocked.

Under pressure from hard-liners, the Iranian government has long blocked access to many websites and social media platforms, from YouTube and Facebook to Twitter and Telegram.

Many Iranians, especially youths, access social media through VPNs and proxies. Instagram and WhatsApp remain unblocked.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, this is not the first time Ronaghi has been arrested. In December 2009, during the mass arrests that followed post-election protests over voter fraud allegations in the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he was arrested after discussing politics in a series of critical blogs that were eventually blocked by the government.