The security agents came for Hossein Ronaghi while he was in the middle of a live television interview in Tehran.
The Iranian blogger and human rights activist was talking to the host about the protests sweeping the nation when, suddenly, he heard a noise behind him and turned around. “They’re here, they’re here,” Ronaghi said with a jittery laugh, footage from the London-based Iran International channel shows.
At least 92 members of civil society — including activists, journalists and lawyers — have been arrested in the three weeks since demonstrations broke out over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based advocacy group. It is a well-honed strategy that Iran’s leaders have used for years to crush dissent and prevent protest movements from threatening their grip on power. Like Ronaghi, 37, many of those detained have been jailed before.
He managed to give the agents the slip the day of the interview but decided to turn himself in two days later, on Sept. 24, at the courthouse of Evin prison where he had been summoned. As soon as Ronaghi and his two lawyers arrived, security agents attacked and beat him. Families waiting for news of their loved ones outside the prison intervened and helped him get into the building.
But the situation did not improve inside the court: Within minutes, the prosecutor assigned to his case asked security guards to detain Ronaghi, as well as his lawyers. “That an accused person goes to the courthouse of his own will and they arrest him and his lawyers is unprecedented,” said Masoud Kazemi, a journalist and close friend of Ronaghi’s who knows his family.
Ronaghi called his mother two days later to confirm that he was in Evin and to deliver some grim news. “He said, ‘Mom I can’t talk now; they’ve broken my legs’ and then the connection was cut,” said Kazemi, 41, who also has served time in Evin, the country’s most notorious prison.