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Young Satirist Arrested, Held Incommunicado Without Charges

Iranian satirist and cultural activist Kioomars Marzban

Iranian satirist and cultural activist Kioomars Marzban has been arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), human rights groups report.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), IRGC intelligence agents stormed Marzban’s residence, arrested him, and confiscated his laptop, cellphone, and teaching materials.

The New York based HRW says the 26-year-old has been held incommunicado without access to an attorney at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison since his arrest, and that undisclosed charges have been filed against him.

Meanwhile, another New York based human rights group, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), says Marzban used to live in Malaysia but returned to Iran one year ago to care for his ailing grandmother, and until now has not had any run-ins with security agents. Friends and supporters of Marzban believe he was targeted by security agents because of his long stay abroad.

Iranian security forces have used scant evidence to accuse numerous citizens with links to foreign countries of spying, ultimately locking them up for years on trumped-up national security charges, CHRI says.

“[President Hassan] Rouhani and his supporters say Iranian expats should come back to the country and work here, but what they really want is an easy target to prey on and fabricate charges against in another putrid spectacle by the security intelligence establishment,” tweeted fellow Iranian satirist Sharagem Zand.

On September 12, a website affiliated with the IRGC, Edalatkhahan (Justice Seekers), claimed Marzban had traveled to the U.S. with the intention of launching an anti-Iranian media outlet “aimed at inflaming the people and creating social divisions.”

Edalatkhahan accused Marzban of working with Freedom House, a human rights organization based in Washington, D.C., to attract Iranian artists and celebrities to opposition causes.

“Kioomars loves to write and although he’s very young, he has matured a lot in recent years,” one of his friends told CHRI. “He has no political sympathies toward any individual or political group and his main passion is writing and being involved in literary activities. We are shocked he has been arrested.”

Satirist Mahmoud Farjami, who lives in exile in Europe, tweeted, “They arrested Kioomars Marzban? For what crime exactly? ‘Misleading’ celebrities? Are those who accuse him of such ridiculous things retarded? I won’t ask if they’ve got a conscience… (By the way, Kioomars has never traveled to the U.S. and he’s only twenty-something.)”

On April 17, Marzban gave an interview to the state-run Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) about the private writing classes he offers and his experiences abroad.

“Iranians have very limited hopes and dreams,” he said. “Their biggest dream is for the economic problems to be solved, and all they think about is their daily affairs. But when I asked people in other countries about this, I realized that imagination and following your dreams is a very important thing.”

Marzban began his artistic career making short films. While living in Malaysia, he hosted a comedy podcast called “Sangtab Radio,” and in 2014 he published a book of short stories titled “kham bodam, pokhteh shodam, balk eh pasandideh shodam” (I was Raw, I Became Ripe and Pleasant).