Tehran accused of cyber targeting UK-based news outlet

A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. (REUTERS)
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Updated 24 May 2020

Tehran accused of cyber targeting UK-based news outlet

  • Iran International covered the November protests that rocked the country, the regime’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane, and corruption surrounding the coronavirus crisis

LONDON: Iran has been accused of using a “sophisticated state-sponsored program” of cyber disinformation to identify and arrest supporters of a London-based Persian-language news outlet.
Iran International has been targeted by cybercriminals, thought to be working for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who have made replicas of the channel’s social media accounts and their most popular reporters.
Mahmood Enayat, general manager at Iran International, said this is an attempt to identify and arrest the channel’s supporters in the country.
“They’ll put up fake job adverts from our presenters on Instagram, people will apply from within Iran, and the next day there will be a knock at their door and they’ll be arrested for wanting to ‘work with the enemy,’” Enayat told Arab News.
Tehran has not just stuck to Instagram, though. Enayat said a fake Iran International Telegram account drew over 600,000 followers, and it was used to identify and arrest Iranians who believe they are subscribing to the real platform.
Iran International covered the November protests that rocked the country, the regime’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane, and corruption surrounding the coronavirus crisis. This, Enayat believes, is why the channel is being targeted by the regime.

They’ll put up fake job adverts from our presenters on Instagram, people will apply from within Iran, and the next day there will be a knock at their door and they’ll be arrested for wanting to ‘work with the enemy.’

Mahmood Enayat, GM, Iran International

“We’re asking questions about these things — real news, things that are happening, things the government doesn’t want us to cover,” he said.
“They’re doing everything they possibly can to prevent Iranians accessing and reading this news, and to prevent us from reporting it.”
Mark Stephens, QC, chairman of the Global Network Initiative — a human rights organization that seeks to promote freedom of expression and privacy online — said: “Anyone who reveals they are following Iran International immediately puts themselves in danger.” He added: “This is a sophisticated state-sponsored program.”
The failure of Facebook-owned Instagram to effectively police its site, Stephens said, is a breach of international law.  
Both Enayat and Stephens urged Facebook to properly confront this ongoing issue. Facebook has said it is investigating.
Enayat said: “There’s a real danger to peoples’ safety. We know they’re targeting people through these fake profiles.”  
Social media platforms “have a duty of care toward their members, who also happen to be our audience,” he added.


Infection fear doesn’t stop migrants heading for Europe

Updated 7 min 16 sec ago

Infection fear doesn’t stop migrants heading for Europe

  • Tunisian authorities halt boats bound for Italy as France tightens its borders

ROME: The Tunisian Coast Guard thwarted several attempts by traffickers to take migrant groups to the coast of Italy in the past few days as the weather improves. 

Fear of infection has not deterred the migrants — Italy still considers its ports as “not safe” from the COVID-19 pandemic although the number of new cases in the country has drastically fallen in the past week.

Tunisian National Guard spokesman Houssem Eddine Jebabli said that 49 people were stopped in the Sfax and Nabeul governorates as they were about to board boats and dinghies to reach Sicily.

Tunisian Coast Guard units in El Amra, in the Sfax governorate, intercepted a boat which had been stolen a few days earlier from local fishermen. Fourteen people aged between 20 and 29 were on board, all from Tunis and Sfax. Five of them were wanted by the police for petty crimes. The officers also seized significant sums of money in foreign currency, which they believed had been paid by the migrants to traffickers to take them to Italy.

The Tunisian prosecutor confirmed the arrest of eight people, and said others had also been charged but not detained. In Sidi Youssef, in the Kerkennah Islands, the coast guards arrested eight people aged between of 20 and 32 from Sfax and Gabes and charged them with preparing an illegal trafficking operation. The suspects, who were found with 16,000 Tunisian dinars (SR20,000) in their possession, were all charged by the public prosecutor, and three were detained.

In the Nabeul governorate, coast guard units intercepted a boat off the coast of Korba with 21 people aboard, mostly from Nigeria, heading toward Italy.

“The migrants said they spent all their money to pay for the trip from North Africa to Europe. Now they are desperate. We are sure they will try to reach Italy again as soon as they can find a way,” a spokesman for the Intersos charity told Arab News.

Despite the Tunisian authorities’ efforts, migrants from Tunisia continue to make the journey. 

Italian police said that 71 Tunisians disembarked on the island of Lampedusa on Wednesday. They were intercepted by an Italian Finance Police patrol boat on a dinghy 10 miles off the coast and were taken to the migrant reception center on the island.

The Catholic charity Caritas Intemelia in Ventimiglia, in northwestern Italy, reported that the passage of migrants, mainly Afghans, had resumed at the border with France. The charity, which has reopened its socio-legal assistance office in the town, said the French authorities have been “extremely strict” in patrolling the border, sending migrants back to Italy, including mothers with children. It believed migrants want to go to France as they feel safer from COVID-19 in that country.

Maurizio Marmo, the director of Caritas Intemelia, said: “In the light of the new Italian decree on foreigners who have the necessary requirements, we will examine individual situations, evaluating the possibility for legalization.”

The charity is also awaiting information about developments at the Parco Roja migrant center, which has been under quarantine for weeks after one person tested positive for COVID-19.

“In the past two months we have recorded very few crossings between Italy and France,” Marmo said. “At the moment our center is full and the kitchen is still closed due to the health emergency, but we continue to distribute food packages to those in transit.

“We understand that a Moroccan mother and a Senegalese mother were sent back by French police guards. Children younger than 10 years old were traveling with them. They were assisted by volunteers from other humanitarian organizations.”

The socio-legal service for migrants in Ventimiglia is a collaboration with the Waldensian Migrant Service and the nonprofit organization WeWorld.