Speculations continue in Iran amid a news blackout over IRGC's arrest of admins running three of its own social media news channels on the Telegram app.

Iranians with some knowledge of the affair have reported that the counter-espionage unit of the IRGC arrested several journalists in Tehran, most notably Ali Gholhaki, a hardliner, conservative investigative journalists with a proven access to insider information from the Iranian establishment.

The arrest stirred a controversy on social media as various people with knowledge of personalities involved gave different accounts of Mr. Gholhaki’s background, performance and character. Iranian journalist Ali Maliki wrote in a tweet that Gholhaki’s arrest sounded odd as he was an example of journalists who are linked to Iran’s power centers.

Another Iranian journalist, Mojtaba Purmohsen quoted a post published on the hardliner Ammarioun channel on Telegram and wrote that the reason why Gholhaki was arrested was that he had disclosed Israeli infiltration into the IRGC Intelligence Organization.

Another netizen who introduced himself or herself as Emilia, wrote in a Twitter post: “If I were a spy I would have wanted to look like Ali Gholhaki and other hardliner journalists or even some of the Iranian lawmakers if I did not wish to be recognized easily.” Emilia was only one of the social media users who pointed out that spies usually chose to be disguised as hardliner Muslims.

An Iranian teacher, Siavash Khoshdel, tweeted: “Gholhaki has been arrested. But has he been detained legally? Even if yes, has there been a trial or a verdict? No. And there is no reason to believe that there would be a fair trial for him.”

Cleric Hossein Taeb, chief of IRGC intelligence seen in this photo with Qasem Soleimani, killed in a US drone attack in 2020

In an interview with Iran International TV, analyst Mehdi Mahdavi-Azad quoted lawmaker Malik Shariati as having said that Gholhaki was arrested by the IRGC’s Counter Disinformation unit. “If this is true, one can say with a degree of certainty that Gholhaki was a member of The IRGC or Basij militia or he was in charge of a major IRGC project,” said Mahdavi Azad.

Mahdavi-Azad added that several Iranian journalists including Saba Azarpeik and Massoud Kazemi have said that Gholhaki was involved in fabricating incriminating evidence against them. The analyst argued that if this claim is true then Gholhaki was in one way or another cooperating with Iranian security-intelligence forces.

Mahdavi-Azad said that in the past Ali Ghazali the editor of Baztab news website and Mohammad Hossein Rostami the managing editor of ultra-conservative website Ammarioun had been arrested on similar charges, and they are still in jail. Similar arrests including that of investigative journalist Reza Golpour, said Mahdavi Azad, happened at a time when there was an internal conflict in the IRGC, and one part of the corps wanted to silence another part.

The analyst said that probably disclosures about parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf’s family luxury shopping trip, and the leaking of tapesincluding statements made by former IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as well as leaking another tape including remarks by Mehdi Taeb, the brother of IRGC Intelligence Chief Hossein Taeb could be reasons why Gholhaki was arrested. Interestingly, all of these controversies involved Ghalibaf.

Meanwhile, as Twitter user Anvari wrote in a warning to other conservative journalists and Twitter users: “Ali Gholhaki, a well-known conservative journalist has been arrested by the IRGC Intelligence on charges of espionage. Let it be known that the IRGC has no mercy even for you my dear friend.”

There is still no news about Gholhaki’s whereabouts or about the names of others who may have been arrested.

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