March 30, 2019
Iranian authorities have warned citizens that they could be prosecuted for their online postings about the flooding that has resulted in dozens of deaths and destroyed homes and infrastructure in several provinces throughout the country.
“Not only has the Iranian government been negligent, it has also warned victims’ families and those who have suffered losses that they will be prosecuted if they paint a dark picture of this [natural disaster and state relief efforts],” prominent human rights lawyer Abdolkarim Lahiji told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“The government wants to shift the blame to the people and unleash the police against them,” he added. “We are dealing with a regime that considers it a crime to inform the public about natural disasters and criticize.”
The starkest warning was issued by the state’s cyber police force, referred to by the acronym of FATA, on March 27, 2019.
“All police units in the provinces have been instructed to monitor social media and take swift action against those who publish images and spread rumors that disturb public opinion and disrupt the peace in society,” said Ramin Pashaie, FATA’s deputy chief, on March 27.
Pashaie also accused those who have shared photos and video footage of the damage, particularly from the hardest-hit city of Shiraz, Fars Province, of doing so for personal gain.
“We ask our dear citizens to not pay attention to news from unknown sources on social media because many of these individuals want to take advantage of the recent floods in order to increase their audience and followers,” he said.
According to the state-funded Emergency Services Organization, 44 people had died as a result of flash flooding in Fars, Mazandaran and Golestan provinces as of March 25, including 21 people in Fars.
Iran’s Ministry of Agriculture and Jihad, which manages and oversees the country’s agricultural industry, also announced on March 28 that the sector had so far suffered 2.4 trillion tomans ($573.7 million USD) in damages.
Article 18 of the Computer Crimes Law allows people to be prosecuted for publicly posting material online deemed objectionable by the state under the charge of “dissemination of lies” (with the intention of disturbing the public state of mind).
But not all Iranian authorities have supported the warning.
Lotfollah Dejkam, the Friday prayer leader of Shiraz (he is also Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative in Fars Province), said people have a right to be angry at officials for having made poor city planning decisions that have worsened the impact of the floods.
“We cannot just be sit by and watch what’s going on,” he said in a meeting with provincial officials on March 27. “The people have a right to curse and hurl every bad word at us.”
“The floods overflowed because the municipality built buildings over the ravines,” he added “Why did they block the flood’s path near the Quran Gate? Where was the flood water supposed to go?”
Center for Human Rights in Iran