The IPI global network urges the Iranian government to immediately release journalist and activist Hassan Shanbehzadeh (also known as Hossein Shanbehzadeh), who was detained on June 6th on unfounded accusations of espionage. These charges could bring the death penalty. Authorities must release Shanbehzadeh and drop all charges against him. 

Shanbehzadeh is a prominent Iranian journalist, blogger, book editor, and translator. A well-known digital activist and advocate for free expression, he is active on X, formerly known as Twitter, under the username @hosseyn1988. His arrest came just after his viral response posted on X to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in May 2024. His post only contained a period in reply to Khamenei’s post, which was missing a period.

Notably, Shanbehzadeh received double the likes and significantly more shares than Khamenei. Shanbezadeh has also published other highly publicized critical writings, including an article about the cruel punishment of hand amputation in Evin prison. His report of Evin prison, infamous for holding political prisoners even before the 1979 revolution, resulted from what he witnessed as a prisoner in 2019.

Iranian cyber police arrested Shanbehzadeh in the northwestern city of Ardabil. The prosecutor of Ardabil reported the arrest of a “fugitive and a suspect sought by the Intelligence Ministry”, whom it labeled as an Israeli spy. While the prosecutor did not specifically name Shanbehzadeh, the Tasnim News Agency — affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — later identified Shanbehzadeh as the detainee.

Voice of America reported that Shanbehzadeh is currently detained in Tehran and has been banned from hiring a lawyer. His social media account was suspended following his arrest.

“The arrest of journalist Hassan Shanbehzadeh is an unjust and a clear act of retribution in an attempt to silence important public voices”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “The deprivation of his rights to legal representation is unacceptable. Iran must release Shanbehzadeh, along with all other detained journalists.”

Shanbehzadeh was convicted in 2019 for his social media posts criticizing Iran’s leadership, for which he was charged with propaganda and “insulting the sanctities and the leader of the Islamic Republic”. He was sentenced to solitary confinement for five years and ten months. He was released early after receiving a pardon from the judiciary after ten months of imprisonment.

Shanbehzadeh’s arrest signals a crackdown on regime critics and journalists ahead of Iran’s elections on June 28th. Iranian activist and cartoonist Atena Farghadani was sentenced to a total of six years in prison on June 10th under charges of “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the State”. Other recent arrests include Yashar Soltani, editor-in-chief of news website Memari News, and Saba Azarpeik, a freelance journalist, who began separately serving one-year prison sentences in Evin prison in early June 2024. Both journalists were charged with defamation and spreading propaganda for their critical reporting on social media. Several Iranian journalists were arrested and summoned by government officials for their coverage of the helicopter crash that killed Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, and several other officials.