Family and friends of dissident blogger and internet freedom activist Hossein Ronaghi say security forces have 'abducted' him and his whereabouts are unknown.
Masoud Kazemi, a dissident journalist and close friend of Ronaghi who resides in Turkey, told Iran International that he went off the grid at around 11:00 AM Wednesday near his house after leaving for work.
"We don't know who has taken him or where he is being held," Kazemi said, adding that Ronaghi had received several intimidating phone calls in the past few days, allegedly from security forces.
In a tweet Wednesday, Ronaghi's brother Hassan, also an activist, said Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Judiciary should be accountable for anything that may happen to him. Ronaghi's father Reza Ronaghi in an interview with Radio Farda Wednesday also said Khamenei was directly responsible for his son's life.
Ronaghi was arrested, along with his brother Hassan, in the aftermath of the disputed presidential elections in 2009 for issuing proxies that allowed journalists and political activists to circumvent internet censorship. He was also charged with insulting Khamenei in his blog posts.
Ronaghi was one of the first to focus his activities against a bill proposed by hardliner lawmakers to introduce highly restrictive internet policies. The bill which is ironically called ‘Users Protection Plan’ and its approval by an ad hoc parliamentary committee with the authority to approve it without putting it to debate on the floor has caused serious concern among Iranians.
"If you can't write the truth about the "Protection Plan" and internet censorship in Iran, do not bury the truth. The Protection Plan was a decision made by the entire regime based on the demand from Islamic Republic's leader who had stated: "Virtual space must be controlled, Ronaghi tweeted on Wednesday before his disappearance.
Khamenei has complained on many occasions, including in a speech on March 21, 2021, that the cyberspace is "unbridled" and should not be "surrendered to the enemy".
According to Amnesty International, Ronaghi was badly tortured in prison after his arrest in 2009 and underwent at least four operations to fix his damaged kidney which could not be saved and had to be removed.
In an interview with Germany's Bild published on January 28, Ronaghi spoke about losing his kidney while in Evin Prison. "I'm still suffering from the effects of the torture, but the good thing is that I'm still alive and can continue," he said. "It was a cruel time; I was sick and didn't get any medical attention. My brother was also arrested and brutally tortured in front of me. I am currently living with one kidney. I've lost a lot, but not my courage," he told Bild.
In recent interviews with foreign media -- which his friend Masoud Kazemi says his arrest may be related to -- Ronaghi has also criticized western media for ignoring violations of human rights in Iran. "Western media aren’t telling you the truth about Iran. For us, it is as if there are two Irans—the one where we live and another that you read about. Reporters [of foreign media] would rather tweet about the weather than investigate repression and torture," Ronaghi told the Wall Street Journal in October.