Close allies of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani denied on October 20 that intelligence agents had detained several suspects connected to his administration for leaking state secrets to a dissident website outside Iran.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization boasted on October 14 that it had arrested the owner of the Paris-based website Rouhollah Zam in an "elaborate" and "complicated" operation, and "guided" him to Iran.
Immediately after the news broke, conservative critics of Rouhani took to social media with a barrage of speculations, accusing the president's close associates of being the site's informers.
On October 20, an outspoken ultraconservative member of the Iranian Parliament, Javad Karimi Ghodousi, claimed that a number of people related to the presidential office had already been arrested for cooperating with the now-defunct dissident website AmadNews.
However, the head of the presidential guards and security, Alireza Khan Karami, insisted that, so far, nobody related to Rouhani's office had been detained for cooperating with AmadNews and its 46-year-old owner, Ruhollah Zam.
Karimi Ghodousi directly named Rouhani senior adviser Hessamodin Ashna as the director responsible for managing the government's "psychological operations' chamber." Firing back, Ashna, the son-in-law of an influential Shi'ite cleric, accused Karimi Ghodousi of running an anti-government center for psychological operations.
This is not the first war of words over the controversial website between close allies of Rouhani and his ultraconservative opponents. Referring to an outspoken anti-Rouhani orator currently behind bars, Karimi Ghodousi called for his release on October 19. "Hassan Abbasi should be freed since his claim's evidence [against Rouhani's intelligence minister and his connection with AmadNews] is in the hands of the judiciary," the city of Mashhad’s MP and member of the IRGC said on October 19.
Abbasi is currently in prison for maintaining that mid-ranking cleric and Intelligence Minister Mahmud Alavi was responsible for leaking sensitive information to Zam. Apparently, Karimi Ghodousi was referring to Zam, who was kidnapped by IRGC intelligence agents in Iraq and taken to Iran.
Several social media users have accused Rouhani's former deputy of information, Parviz Esmaeili, of being one of the president's closest allies who used to feed Zam the leaked sensitive materials. Esmaeili resigned from his position a day before the IRGC declared that it had "captured" Zam.
In addition to people related to Rouhani and his administration, individuals outside the government, including Mohammad Hossein Rostami, have also been accused of being Zam's "informers.”
So far, the IRGC has accused Rostami, the former director of the Ammariyoun website, of having ties to AmadNews. He was arrested in late 2016, charged with espionage in favor of Israel, and sentenced to 10 years in jail.
In a video produced by the IRGC and aired by the monopolized state-owned TV network, Rostami was accused of receiving money and relaying information about the presence of Iranian forces in Syria.
In two audiotapes circulated by close allies of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Rostami categorically denied receiving any money.
Furthermore, Rostami insisted he had fallen victim to the “vengeance” of the head of the IRGC Intelligence Organization, mid-ranking cleric Hossein Taeb.
"Since I had information about Taeb's corruption related to financial and security affairs, he set the scene for my arrest," Rostami said, adding that Taeb was on the payroll of the Israelis for anti-Iran espionage.
Most cases against Taeb presented by Rostami had also been circulated by another individual close to the Ammariyoun site, Reza Golpour.
Facing charges similar to Rostami, Golpour has also been sentenced to 10 years in prison for spying on behalf of Israel.