EXCLUSIVE: Family of jailed Facebook user in Iran: ‘They are going to kill her ‘

Above: Roya Nobakht and her husband Daryoush Taghipoor, who is said to be devastated by his wife's prison sentence.

U.K. resident Roya Nobakht was visiting Iran a few months ago. While there, she visited and posted on a Facebook page — one that Iran’s religious leaders don’t like.

Now she’s in prison serving a 20-year term, and her family fears for her life.

Nobakht, a naturalized British citizen who lives in Manchester, was visiting family in the Iranian city of Fars when she was arrested. She has been in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison ever since. A family member told VentureBeat she had been brutalized, beaten, and raped.

Since she was picked up by Iranian agents, Nobakht was allowed only one phone call.

“She was crying. It was horrible. Horrible. She said, ‘I can’t tell you much, but I won’t be seeing you anymore,'” the source said, overcome with emotion and nearly sobbing.

“She said, ‘I have a little bit of a problem. And I’m not coming back.'”

She was convicted of insulting “Islamic sanctities” in a Tehran courtroom two weeks ago and was immediately sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Along with Nobakht, seven other Iranians were also caught up in the government’s social media dragnet.

Mostly students, they received sentences ranging from 8 to 20 years.

The feared Cyber Army of Iran, which monitors Iranian Internet usage, noticed a spike in traffic to the Facebook page and made the arrests. Iran has since banned all social media in the country, Iranian activists told us, including Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

“She is not doing anything political. She is a simple housewife who was visiting family like she did every year,” the family member, who lives in England, told VentureBeat.

“Here,” the source said, referencing England, “we live in a free country. In Iran, the mullahs want to control everything and control you.”

Facebook, along with Twitter, was first blocked in Iran during the 2009 elections. The restriction was technical, preventing local users from accessing these sites through local ISPs.

Residents have circumnavigated the ban by using hotspots on their smartphones, laptops, and tablets, and also using proxy servers and Turkish ISPs.

But the mullahs perceive social media as a direct threat to the regime and are clamping down with brute force when the filters don’t work.

Indeed, sources inside the anxious capital of Tehran told VentureBeat the mullahs have made accessing Facebook a crime, with those caught violating the law facing the same fate as Nobakht.

In an email, a young social media user in Tehran, unrelated to Nobakht, put it this way:

I am fearing as well. What if the next target is me or people around me? You know, the definition of crime has been changed here in Iran. Being a regular Facebook user is now a great crime, but raping women or even children by Basij members is something normal.

The Basji are the mullah’s private army of enforcers, many of them drawn from impoverished neighborhoods. They answer directly to the mullahs, have a legacy of well documented brutality, and are feared by a large swath of the public.

As for Nobakht, the source said family members became alarmed when they showed up to London’s Heathrow airport to pick her up from a Turkish Airways flight at the appointed time. She never de-planed, and frantic calls were made from England to family members in Iran.

The family member, quoted here, then travelled to Iran looking for her and received the single phone call from Nobakht from Evin prison. That is the last contact family members have had with her.

Nobakht emigrated to England in 1998, joining her husband who had arrived in the U.K. earlier.

“She loves Facebook and uses it a lot to keep in touch with her family,” our source told us. “She had a laptop with her and was posting some jokes. Nothing really. But I really don’t know because nobody will tell me anything.”

Along with Nobakht, the names of the arrested students include Amir Golestani, Masoud Ghasemkhani, Fariborz Karfardar, Seyed Masoud Seyed Talebi, Amin Akramipour, Mehdi Reyshahri, and Naghmeh Shirazi. Nobakht and Shirazi are the only two women of the eight.

They, too, are thought to be at Evin prison.

The source asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against family members still in Iran. The family is working with Britain’s Foreign Office, but as the country has no formal diplomatic ties to Iran, it remains to be seen what, if any, help they can give.

The British embassy in Washington, D.C. did not return numerous phone calls for comment.

As it has done previously, Facebook said it had no comment.

When told that Facebook had declined speak on the situation, the family member expressed sadness.

“Roya loves using Facebook,” the source said. “This is just terrible.”

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35 comments
Tony King
Tony King

It's not the only Iran story on venturebeat

Jen Jen
Jen Jen

I wish that when horrific news like this is posted, it would be followed up with a solution. What can we join? Who can we call? Can we put our heads together? I think knowing this and not doing anything about it makes us even worse.

Afshan Mustafa
Afshan Mustafa

wow what a bunch of thugs in suits to do this over facebook. sounds like north korea.

Johann Quassowski
Johann Quassowski

As a foreigner, you will be unlikely to have any such problems - they might just kick you out and stop you from entering the country again. She's not British, according to Iranian law, as there is no way to renounce your citizenship of Iran. Therefore she's prosecuted pretty much like every other citizen would be.

Raza Megz
Raza Megz

At Nicolas Iran first of all would 1) sink your settler navy 2) flatten all your settler occupier bases 3) flatten all the palaces of your pro Alciada puppet Arab monarchies 4) they just announced last week they will even flatten Diego Garcia 5) don't even think after an attack on Iran that they let will you even have embassies in any middle Eastern or north African nation 6) and that's just the beginning Iran will make sure it engages in street battles which america can't win as a semi trained 15 year old in Iran can do far more damage than a us marine. Simply you cowboys thought you were gonna get a 50 year military base in Iraq but instead Iran made sure its militias kicked you out You lot thought you could use European Izraeli settlers to take over Lebanon in 1980's bu Iran made sure to turn Lebanon into a grave yard for European settlers You americans with your puppet then also worked with Sadaam to invade and gas Iran but Iran defeated you then downing many choppers and planes of yours You then recently with your Alciada allies thought you could take over Syria only to be shocked when you saw how Iran got 1 million volunteers from Lebanon , Iraq and Iran to repel and destroy your alciada ally Syrian rebels Then you recently re armed your Syrian rebels and thought that Iran will stand by while they take over Iraq. Yet again you are shocked to see 2 million Iraqi men and women pick up arms to kill western funded rebels as we saw yesterday

Nicholas M. Cummings
Nicholas M. Cummings

Or using the Internet, or having the audacity to get raped before marriage. Get the f#%@ out of here with your bullshit. As for Iraq, it probably has more to do with Iran fighting their alternate branch of Islam dumbf#%@, but I guess any opportunity to grandstand

Nicholas M. Cummings
Nicholas M. Cummings

Lol you're dumb if you think we lose a conventional war to Iran. Iran would have to lure us and or hide among civilians to stand a chance. Otherwise we'll just cruise missile Iran from the Gulf, bomb armies and large military assets, and that's it. Direct attacks would be foolish, unconventional+attrition is the only strategy that stands a chance

Nicholas M. Cummings
Nicholas M. Cummings

So killing an innocent woman is ok? The f#%@ are all these posts, Iranian government propaganda accounts replying to this article?

Nicholas M. Cummings
Nicholas M. Cummings

It is when it's this egregious. To expect someone to understand a cultural difference THIS extreme is unfair, especially when the Iranian rhetoric was targeting Mark Zuckerberg for being a "Zionist Jew"

Nicholas M. Cummings
Nicholas M. Cummings

While I agree that the people themselves need to want the change, it doesn't help this woman in the meantime. Does she have to die to ferment the revolution?

Mahesh Patel
Mahesh Patel

People in the country can only change how their life's should be govern. Clearly the mass let this punishment be legal for this to be a normal thing. We have and had stupid laws in the USA where people where jailed for being gay or for being black and riding in front of the bus. So I don't think is it other nations that need to get involved in this but the people within the country would want the change.

Joshua Darlington
Joshua Darlington

Shock humor is very popular today. But it's a competitive field. So merely calling for innocent women and children to be burned alive is dull.

Joel Reyna
Joel Reyna

I would think one would know and understand the laws before visiting another country. This is more than a huge error in judgement. She should have been more cautious online. It is not for us to criticize Iran for what we think is an erroneous law.

Tony King
Tony King

Is there a reason why Venturebeat is suddenly on an anti-Iran crusade?

Mandie Morrison
Mandie Morrison

Maybe because governments are not people, and there are plenty of innocents in the area? I'd like to see you look into the eyes of a bunch of innocent Iranian children and their families and inform them that they have to die and why

Michel de Goede
Michel de Goede

No matter any personal opinion I could have on this subject, I think Iran is limiting it's ability to innovate and to compete in the world in this manner. Which is a pity for both Iran and the rest of world....

Raza Megz
Raza Megz

Lol you settler colonisers can try.. Iran will destroy all your bases in Asia and Africa Also USA has control over internet access.. Have you not heard the NSA Also why did America lock up a 15 year old Canadian in Guantanamo without a trial? Why does America support european Izraeli settlers who block water to native Asian Palestinians? Why does america arm and support Saudi brutal monarchies In USA they spy on your phones and internet Very simple if u wanna go Iran follow the laws If u wanna fight Iran be ready to be crushed Very simple

Shawn Starr
Shawn Starr

This is why people should not travel to places like Iran...and no govt should have control over internet access. Sad.

Forest Yule
Forest Yule

We should have settled their debt for them years ago. Why that place isn't a glass bottomed parking lot yet baffles me.

Raza Megz
Raza Megz

Iran are actually busy sending their army into Iraq and Syria to battle the Western Funded Alciada rebels that you colonising settlers keep arming and funding.. In Iran you only face death for things like murder, paedophilia, western backed terrorism or financial bank fraud

Yacko Abrams
Yacko Abrams

Leaders of such nation should ve burned alive :@ !! Simple faxebook comment being gravely treated as a worse offence than rape and! Violence !!

Mohamad Abu Ali
Mohamad Abu Ali

VentureBeat stick to tech, startup, business news. Quit being a mouthpiece / puppet of the Zionist propaganda machine.

Srikrishna Das
Srikrishna Das

When told that Facebook had declined speak on the situation, the family member expressed sadness.

It is indeed sad what has happened; and actually outrageous, but wondering why is facebook supposed to comment on this?
This is something Governments and people should handle either diplomatically or by protesting, and not sure why media wants to reach facebook on this.

If someone picks up a brick on the road and flings it, and it hits something.... do you reach the brick company for comments?
Epic facepalm.

Soroosh Gh
Soroosh Gh

unless you say nothing about God and islam and $%^&s like this they won't bother you :D

Neil Jackson
Neil Jackson

I wonder what the cybermen of Iran would think if I posted something they didn't like but then visited Iran at a later date.... I reckon they'd probably consider the insult valid? Take this as a warning.... When Iran discovers Big Data then travellers might have Big Problems.

Mir Ahsan
Mir Ahsan

Can't stand this countries government and cultural duality!