An Iranian court sentenced the CEO of Aparat, a video-sharing website similar to YouTube, to ten years in prison this month for “encouraging corruption” after an Aparat user uploaded a video to the platform last year that authorities in the Islamic Republic deemed “vulgar.”
In the video, children were asked “whether they know how they were born,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported on Monday, citing Iranian media. The video was reportedly removed one hour after its posting on Aparat, which has millions of users and was designated “Iran’s most famous video-sharing site” by the Tehran Times in July 2019.
“The verdict against Aparat Chief Executive Officer Mohammad Javad Shakuri Moghadam was reported by domestic media on October 25,” according to RFE/RL. “The sentence was reportedly issued in mid-October by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court presided over by judge Mohammad Moghiseh, who is known for handing down harsh sentences.”
Iranian law enforcement authorities also arrested the video’s producers, claiming they had received complaints about the video from citizens and families concerned about its content.
According to a BBC report quoted by RFE/RL, “seven others accused in the case have been each sentenced to 11 years in prison after being convicted of ‘encouraging corruption’ and ‘publishing vulgar content.’”
The decade-long sentence marks a reversal of fortune for Aparat CEO Moghadam, who just two years ago was awarded a medal of honor by the Iranian government as one of the country’s top entrepreneurs. Moghadam can reportedly appeal his sentence.
The Aparat case has raised concerns in Iran that other similar platforms could face criminal prosecution over user-published content. Aparat says on its website that videos uploaded to the platform “should not contradict the morals and customs of Islamic society.” It further advises users to “avoid uploading videos that cause political tension and inflammation.”
Moghadam launched Aparat in 2011 as Iran’s version of Google’s YouTube, among thousands of websites banned by the Iranian government under strict online censorship laws.
“Google itself also blocks people who try to log on from Iran,” Fortune reported in 2016.
Speaking to the U.S. business magazine at the time, Moghadam said that Aparat had “about 25 million unique visitors a month and more than six million videos … viewed daily.”
The U.S. Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on the judge in the Aparat case, Mohammad Moghiseh, last December for miscarriage of justice.
“He is notorious for sentencing scores of journalists and internet users to lengthy prison terms. In one case alone, he sentenced eight Iranian Facebook users to a cumulative total of 127 years in prison for charges including anti-regime publicity and insults to religion,” the U.S. Treasury explained when announcing the sanctions.