Revolutionary Guard Coerced Iranian-Canadian Software Developer To Spy On Internet Activists
Radio Farda August 18, 2020
An Iranian-Canadian software developer, who was arrested by the Revolutionary Guard during a January visit to Iran and freed after agreeing to serve as an informant for the Guard's intelligence service, is going public about his experiences in order to prevent his family in Iran from being harassed.
Behdad Esfahbod, a 37-year-old tech professional who worked for Facebook at the time of his visit to Iran, was arrested by four plainclothesmen with a Revolutionary Guard warrant on allegations of "activity against the security of the Islamic regime and cooperation with hostile entities."
In an exclusive interview with Radio Farda, Esfahbod said the Revolutionary Guard held him at the Guard's enclave in Tehran's Evin Prison, and threatened to frame him as an American spy responsible for the downing of the Ukrainian flight shot down by Revolutionary Guard on January 8 over Tehran.
In a post published on Medium on August 17, Esfahbod described how he was kept in solitary confinement for seven days, questioned for more than six hours a day and subjected to two episodes of psychological torture to force him "to cooperate."
His interrogators, interested in his connections with human rights activists and software developers outside Iran, downloaded all his private data from Google, social media and other applications. Esfahbod told Radio Farda that the Guard searched his data and devices for information about groups developing proxy servers to allow free internet access to Iranian users.
Esfahbod recalled that, after the Guard found no incriminating information on his devices, they told him that he'd be allowed to leave Iran on the condition that he "cooperated" by establishing contact with these groups of interest and provide the Guard with information on them upon his return to North America. Under coercion, he agreed to the deal, he said.
Esfahbod was released on bail and returned to Canada, but became paranoid after his return, avoiding contact with other people for weeks and quitting his job with Facebook. When he notified Canadian authorities of his circumstances, he claimed that officials told him they were unable to help him because he had entered Iran on his Iranian passport.
Matters grew worse when Esfahbod ignored his interrogators' repeated messages to establish contact after his return to Canada. After he remained silent, the Guard sent a notice addressed to him to his sister's residence in Iran, requiring him to present himself for "further questioning" in Tehran within five days. The summons compelled him to go public with his story, he said.
"I will definitely not go back to Iran," he told Radio Farda, adding that he is very worried about his family in Iran. "I decided to make a disclosure through the media which may help support my family."
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|