Dubai: A woman arrested on Thursday by Iran’s security forces has been formally charged with communicating with and transmitting information to a London-based television broadcaster, which Iran’s clerical rulers have accused of fomenting unrest.
The arrest comes amid one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police for not wearing “appropriate attire”.
Fars, a semi-official news agency affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, reported that Elham Afkari was arrested as she tried to flee the country and that she was an “agent” of the Iran International broadcaster, whose officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Rights activists denied that Afkari had been trying to flee Iran and said she was arrested in the southern city of Shiraz, her hometown.
State media showed pictures of her arrest, in which she was seen with a large black blindfold over her face and seated in the back of a security vehicle with barred windows.
“Recently, the agent carried out numerous activities and actions in slandering the Islamic Republic, inviting youth to riot and creating terror among the people,” Fars said with respect to Afkari.
On Tuesday, Iran’s intelligence minister, Esmail Khatib, called the London-based channel a “terrorist” organisation.
Saeed Afkari confirmed his sister’s arrest on Twitter, adding that her husband and three-year-old daughter were released after being taken in for interrogation by Shiraz prosecutors, who filed the charges.
‘1500tasvir’, a Twitter account with 330,000 followers focused on the Iran protests, shared a video of Elham’s relatives gathering in front of an intelligence service office in Shiraz to inquire about her condition, and getting no answers.
Elham is the sister of Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old Greco-Roman wrestler executed in September 2020 after being convicted of stabbing a security guard to death during anti-government protests in 2018.
Afkari’s family and activists have said Navid was tortured into making a false confession, accusations that were denied by the hardline Iranian judiciary.
Since the execution of Navid, the Afkaris have faced several court cases over involvement in the 2018 protests. Habib Afkari was freed in March 2022 after months of isolation in prison, while Vahid Afkari remains in solitary confinement.
“The Islamic Republic is so contemptible that it has resorted to arresting Elham and even her three-year-old child,” her family said in a statement.
“They have never stopped harassing our family. Now they have arrested Navid’s sister Elham. In this regard, we, the Afkari family, declare that everything published by Fars and other regime media is completely false.”
Iran has accused arch regional rival Saudi Arabia of funding the Iran International channel, which has covered the protest movement extensively since it started. Saudi Arabia has not commented on Iran’s allegations.
On Wednesday, Khatib warned Saudi Arabia that there was no guarantee Tehran would continue to maintain “strategic patience” towards Riyadh.