Iranian Blogger Arrested for Correcting Ayatollah's Punctuation in Tweet

An Iranian blogger, translator, literary editor, and social activist was arrested by Iranian authorities on June 4th and was accused of spying for Israel for posting a dot in response to a Tweet made last month by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Iran’s judiciary and the IRGC-linked news outlet Tasnim News reported the arrest of Hossein Shanbehzadeh, who is famous in Iran for his humorous and candid critiques and political views, in the northwestern city of Ardabil, where he was also described as a "fugitive Mossad agent.

The Prosecutor’s Office of Ardabil claimed that Shanbehzadeh "had a history of insulting Shia imams and was in contact with high-ranking Mossad officers." His family refuted these claims, calling them "unjustifiable” and adding that the blogger always used his real identity on social media. They also said the charges against Shanbehzadeh were filed a day after his arrest, and he was also denied access to a lawyer.

Shanbehzadeh went viral on social media after he commented on a Tweet made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He solely mentioned a “.” under a Tweet that missed the full stop pronunciation mark, employing a sarcastic editorial tone. His comment received more views than the Supreme Leader’s original Tweet, seemingly challenging Khamenei’s popularity despite the Islamic Republic’s extensive use of pro-regime accounts, censorship, and online policing.

Numerous social media users expressed their outrage over Shanbehzadeh’s arrest, linking it to a comment he made under an official post made by Khamenei last month, which also gained significant traction. 

Russian chess master and prominent Putin critic Garry Kasparov responded to news of Shanbehzadeh's arrest with a single dot on his X (formerly known as Twitter) account. A hashtag with his name in Persian has been tweeted over 57,000 times on the platform in the past few days.

"What information did Hossein have access to that he could spy on? Did he have missile or nuclear information? Why are you weaving nonsense..." one social media user wrote, questioning the espionage charges filed against the blogger.

Arash Sadeghi, a human rights activist and a former political prisoner, defined "espionage" under Islamic Republic law on X.

"The definition of the crime of espionage is that if a person provides classified information to people who are not authorized to access it, the act is espionage." Sadeghi tweeted. "How can you accuse an editor, writer, and satirist whose only platform was his Twitter page of espionage?"

On the other hand, some social media users cited Shanbehzadeh’s criticisms of the Islamic Republic, including an exposé on the harsh practices inside Evin Prison, suggesting his arrest stems from the regime’s ire towards the blogger.

The blogger and literary editor was previously arrested in connection to the 2019 protest in Iran, where he faced charges of "insulting the sanctities and the leader of the Islamic Republic."

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