Iranian official avoids arrest thanks to social media

Mobilised by social media, people came to the home of Mahmoud Sadeghi to stop his arrest.
Mobilised by social media, people came to the home of Mahmoud Sadeghi to stop his arrest.

Iran’s security forces gave up on their attempt to arrest a reformist Iranian MP after a crowd gathered outside his house to prevent his arrest.

Mahmoud Sadeghi, an MP in Tehran, told an Iranian news agency in an interview on Sunday evening that he was trapped in his apartment. “An hour ago, some security service members tried to arrest me outside my apartment, but because this is illegal I resisted. They’re still outside the door of the apartment,” he said. In Iran’s constitution MPs are granted legal immunity and so cannot be arrested.

In a conversation afterwards with a colleague, Sadeghi mentioned his address. His colleague posted a soundbite of their conversation on social media, and the news immediately took off, being shared widely on Twitter, Facebook and the messaging app Telegram.

Hundreds of people turned up at Sadeghi’s home, including activists, other MPs and members of the public.

Messages like this ("Mahmoud Sadeghi is not alone") circulated on Twitter.

Iranian media reported that the crowd only left at around 3.30am on Monday after the president of the Iranian parliament and several influential politicians intervened.

Photos and videos taken outside the MPs house.

In recent years Iranians have used social media as a tool for organisation and activism, but this is the first time that the power of social media has successfully halted a potential arrest.

Messages showing how to get to Sadeghi's house, posted on social media.

“I will never stop fighting for transparency and against corruption”

On Monday morning, Sadeghi published a series of audio clips along with photos of his house on social media, thanking those who had come to support him. He tweeted that the “illegal arrest warrant” had now been lifted, and said that he would sue the judge who had ordered his arrest. He posted that he would “never stop fighting for transparency and against corruption” in Iran. The judge in question retaliated by accusing Sadeghi of “spreading lies” and “causing public disorder”.

A crowd outside Sadeghi's house.

The whole debacle caused quite a stir, but not only amongst those in the reformist camp. Conservatives also commented on the attempted arrest of an MP, and some even pushed for judicial proceedings against the judge. The judicial system has as of yet made no formal response to the incident. In Iran, the head of the judicial system is chosen directly by the Supreme Leader, which means that the top post is always occupied by a conservative supporter of the regime.

Read more: How Iranian authorities break their own censorship laws

Javad Fathi and Farid Mousavi, two reformist MPs, gathered in front of Mahmoud Sadeghi's door.

Mahmoud Sadeghi, a politician who knows how to use social media

Sadeghi is a reformist MP who was elected in the last round of elections in February 2016. He's known for criticising the Iranian authorities, and actually gained in popularity after drawing attention to the issue of police violence in the country. But he really made a buzz when he spoke about a major financial corruption scandal with Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, at its centre. 

He recently questioned the Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani in parliament and in a public letter about corruption at the top of Iran’s judicial system. Both Ghalibaf and Larijani are hardliners and have a close relationship with Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

Sadeghi is known for his presence on social media: he regularly tweets and gives his opinions about current affairs and whilst his comments are welcomed by Iranians, he’s certainly not making any friends amongst Iranian authorities.

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