Iran's Revolutionary Guard has arrested admins of social media news chasnnels considered regime insiders for spreading fake news and “agitating public opinion.”
At least three admins of separate channels on the social media app Telegram have been arrested by the IRGC’s internal security service, the Guard’s official Telegram channel said on Thursday.
The announcement said that these Telegram channels, which were reporting on internal Iranian politics and rumors, “published classified information and documents,” and spread “fake and selective news to sow discord among high-level officials.”
In recent years the Revolutionary Guard has set up multiple social media accounts, including on Telegram, to spread its version of events. This extensive network is part of what has come to be known as IRGC’s “cyber army”.
The announcement made by the IRGC Intelligence Organization did not reveal the names of those detained, but reports circulating on social media in Iran say one person is Ali Gholhaki, a journalist who supports hardliners in the political establishment and often publishes first-hand news about impending decisions or developments.
One expert Iran International spoke with was surprised if Gholhaki would have been involved in disclosing classified information. His track record shows he is a well-informed insider whose political revelations often prove to be correct after a few days.
One example was during the presidential election in June 2021, when he was the first to report that the constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, was set to disqualify a few key candidates.
Gholhaki and the three Telegram channels mentioned are all close to the Revolutionary Guard and it is not clear why they were arrested and what else might be behind the move.
The IRGC announcement mentions no examples of what information the three channels disclosed.
At this stage, speculations among observers generally relate to possible factional infighting.
One theory involves parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf who was discredit when similar Telegram channels were involved in disclosing that his family took a luxury shopping trip to Turkey in April amid an economic crisis and rising poverty.
Ghalibaf at the time threatened legal action against those who “defamed” him, but later other events pushed the scandal into relative obscurity.
Another theory relates to a reported clash at a recent meeting of the Expediency Council, another constitutional body, where supposedly hardliner politician Saeed Jalili and former parliament speaker, moderate-conservative Ali Larijani argued about Iran’s nuclear policies. These same type of Telegram channels leaked that the two had a fierce argument when Jalili proposed pulling out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT).
Yet another theory is that the IRGC intelligence wants to show it is in charge and omnipotent after repeated deadly incidents among it personnel in recent weaks.
Two commanders of the Guard’s extraterritorial Quds (Qods) Force died in May, one shot multiple times in broad daylight outside his home in Tehran and another fell form the rooftop or balcony of his house. Immediately suspicions fell on Israel that has apparently been behind a series of spectacular attacks on Iran’s nuclear and military sites, as well as key individuals.
Following the deaths of the Quds officers, at least two weapons experts working for the IRGC also died mysteriously.
These sort of evets since July 2020 have dealt a serious blow to the image of IRGC Intelligence, as Iranians on social media make fun of its inability to protect its own, while it claims to intimidate enemies.