Ayoung asylum seeker in Holland says authorities in Iran are retaliating against his family over his contributions to a Facebook page that satirizes a Shi'ite imam. Twenty-five-year-old Yashar Khameneh says that due to his online activities, his father has been jailed and threatened with execution. “My father has been in jail for the past five weeks, and his only crime is that he is my father,” Khameneh says.
Iranian asylum seeker Yashar Khameneh (right) with his father, who he says has been imprisoned over his son's Internet activities
The Persian-language page, called “The Campaign to Remind Shi’ites about Imam Naghi,” satirizes political and religious topics -- from the rights of women in Islam, to sanctions against Iran, to Facebook itself -- and attributes them to the 10th Imam of the Shi’ites.
A Facebook page called "The Campaign to Remind Shi’ites about Imam Naghi" that satirizes Iranian religious and political topics
More than 21,000 people have "liked" the page, while others in Iran say they often visit it but refrain from "liking" for fear of being identified. It was being "talked about" by around 4,000 Facebook users on June 28.
The page's popularity has made it a thorn in the side of Iranian authorities. Hard-liners have condemned the page and called on the government to take action against it. Last year, hard-line blogs posted the names and pictures of several Iranians inside the country who had "liked" the page.
Khameneh says he has written satire for the page under a pen name and also created several YouTube videos to promote it. He believes the page helps "break taboos."
WATCH: One of Khameneh's videos (warning: graphic images):
Khameneh says Iranian authorities have accused his father of sending him money for his “antireligious activities." He says his father has merely been supporting his studies in Europe.
The pressure, he says, does not stop there. Khameneh claims his father was arrested on May 26 and that security officials told the elder Khameneh that he will remain in jail -- or worse -- unless the page is shut down.
"Two weeks ago, my father called home [from prison] and said that he is under a lot of pressure," Khameneh says. "He was apparently in a very bad state. He told [the family], 'Tell Yashar to provide all the information he has or else I might not remain alive.'"
Khameneh says that based on a request from the authorities holding his father, he sent a video to Iran expressing regret over his actions. When that failed to secure his father's release, Khameneh says, he decided to publicize the case by issuing an open letter describing the pressure against his family.
Not The First
While Iranian authorities are notoriously tight-lipped about detentions in general and Khameneh's story cannot be independently verified, it would not be the first of its kind.
Hadi Ghaemi of the U.S.-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says Khameneh's account is "quite plausible."
"In the past three years, the Iranian government has invested heavily in monitoring the online activities of Iranians both inside the country and abroad and in trying to control to the online medium in various forms to prevent it from becoming a public forum for criticism or dissent," Ghaemi says.
Ghaemi also says his organization is looking into Khameneh's case.
Prominent rapper Shahin Najafi, who says he was inspired by the page, has received death threats over his song "Naghi," which also lampoons the imam.
A number of people have reportedly been sentenced to jail in Iran in recent months over postings on Facebook. Officials from Iran’s cyberpolice said in January that they had arrested the administrators of a Facebook page that was attempting to organize an online beauty contest.
Khameneh tells RFE/RL that Iranian officials have asked for the passwords to his e-mail and Facebook accounts and for access to his blog. They also requested the password to the Facebook page, as well as for information about its other members, Khameneh claims.
He says authorities who he believes are affiliated with the Iranian Intelligence Ministry have also asked him to return to Iran.
He fears that some Iran-based members of the page may have already been arrested.
“My father said in one of his phone calls to home that he has seen several members of the Facebook campaign in jail and that they have all said I am in charge of the page," Khameneh says, adding that that's untrue. "But it worries me that others have been caught, too. Around the time when my father was arrested, a number of people who would write on the page went missing."
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