Thursday, 26 March 2009

Reporters without borders: Internet enemies


Iran leads the way in the Middle East in repression of the Internet. According to the Tehran prosecutor general’s adviser, the authorities Blocked five million websites inn2008. However the country has The region’s most militant bloggers, four of whom are currently in prison.

Internet penetration is above average in the region and in the run-up to presidential elections due on 12 June, the authorities appear to be stepping up their control. The main service providers rely on the state-run Iranian Telecommunications Company (ITC). Despite the existence of private companies, the state remains the main actor in the market and instructions given by the Minister of Culture and Islamic Orientation, Mohammed Saffar Harandi, are quickly applied.

The Iranian parliament’s justice commission on3 November 2008, decided to set up a new filtering committee ratifying some articles in the draft law on “Internet offences”. However, since 2003, the government has already had in place
a commission dedicated to establishing a blacklist of websites seen as “illegal”, including YouTube, Facebook and Orkut. Moreover, a draft law dating from 2 July 2008, is in the process of being adopted, that punishes with the death penalty “the creation of blogs and websites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy”.

A special prosecutor’s office makes decisions on censorship and is made up of a team of computer specialists. Tehran’s Prosecutor General of Tehran, Said Mortazavi, said that it was planned that “two special inspectors will work together with the security services”. “This prosecutor’s office has already dismantled two groups working against the government on the Internet,” he added in an interview with the official news agency Fars. In this way, “The Internet will be made safe because anti-religious and immoral activities will be tried there”. The commander of the “special forces for moral security” said on 8 February 2009 that “identifying banned websites and arresting Internet users that go on them is one of [its] responsibilities”. It was the first time that the police raised this subject.

Crackdown on political bloggers increases in run-up to presidential elections

The pro-government press considers the Internet to be “subversive”. The authorities in 2008, arrested or questioned 17 bloggers, seven more than in 2007. More than 38 news websites were censored and in the run-up to presidential elections, foreign news websites are also being censored.

The Persian-language website of the German media Deutsche Welle
(,,641,00.html) has been inaccessible since 26 January, as has the Persian-language site of Radio France International ( and the Arabic-language site of
al-Arabiya television (
Reporters Without Borders’ tests carried out on 26 and 27 January, found the blocking was affecting the cities of Tehran, Qom, Ahvaz, Karaj, Tabriz, Bousher, Meched and Chiraz. Against this background, Esmail Jafari, editor of the blog Rah Mardom (Voice of the People -, was sentenced
on 6 December to five months in prison for having covered a demonstration in front of the city prefecture by around 20 workers in Bushehr, south-west Iran, in protest at being sacked, in April. He was sentenced for “publicity against
the regime” and “revealing information abroad”.

Since 24 January 2009, several news websites criticising government policy or belonging to potential opponents of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have also been made inaccessible by various service providers. Farda News ( and Parsine (
www.parsine. com), both close to Tehran mayor, Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, a rival of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been closed down. Likewise, on 22 February two sites were blocked that supported the candidacy of the reforming ex-president Mohammad Khatami to the 12 June presidential elections. They were Yarinews, an information portal for Khatami supporters and the website Yaari, which collects messages of support for the former president.

Repression not only affects the authors of critical comments about the outgoing president, who is determined to protect his political image ahead of 12 June, Journalist Mojtaba Lotfi was arrested on 8 October for posting online remarks
by the ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a renowned opponent of the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution, as well as remarks by the ayatollah Ali Khamenei, critical of a statement by President Ahmadinejad that Iran was the “world’s freest country” (

He was sentenced on 29 November 2008 to four years in prison and five years banishment by a special cleric court in the city of Qom, in the central-north of the country. The blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who is often invited to speak about the state of the Internet at international conferences, was arrested on 1st November 2008. One of the reasons for his arrest was posting articles about key figures of the Shiite faith on his blog (

According to his family, he is still being detained, while an investigation into his case is being held.

Women continue to be targeted for harassment
by the authoritiesCrackdowns on Internet users and the Internet are all the more significant since they are recognized internationally for their criticism of the policies of President Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian women’s collective behind the campaign, “One million signatures for the abolition of discriminatory laws against women”, launched in 2005, won the Simone de Beauvoir prize for the freedom of women on 9 January 2009, securing themselves a major role in this struggle. Posting the collective’s message online ensured high visibility on the international scene. But on the other side of the coin, it also ensured unprecedented hounding by the authorities.

Women bloggers who took part in this campaign were summoned to a revolutionary tribunal at least three times in 2009. Five of them (Parvin Ardalan, Jelveh Javaheri, Maryam Hosseinkhah and Nahid Keshavarz) were sentenced to six months in prison for “publishing news against the regime”. The authorities’ accusations centre on their contributions to the online newspaper Zanestan (The City of women- and Tagir Bary Barbary (Change for equality -

At the end of 2008, Tagir Bary Barbary suffered its 18th incident of blocking in two years and its eighth. The blog, run by Jila Bani Yaghoub, lawyer and director of who regularly defends rights for women in Iran, is also inaccessible. Blogger Shahnaz Gholami, a member of the Association of Women Journalists (ARZ), who has been particularly involved in the women’s rights struggle, spent 69 days in custody. This editor of the blog Azar Zan ( was arrested because the authorities considered that “the articles were damaging to national security” and that “the accused clearly said that she had posted these articles on her weblog”.

Another sign of deteriorating freedom of expression in Iran came on 21 December when the Circleof Human Rights Defenders, providing free legal aid to Iran’s journalists and human rights activists, founded in Tehran in 2002 by lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, was closed on the order of the authorities.

More information: : website of a student
organisation on human rights in Iran (Farsi). : news website of the
conservative party (Farsi). : news website of the reformist
party (Farsi). : website of the official
news agency (English and Farsi). : Tagir Bary Barbary -
(Change to equality - Farsi and English): feminist
newspaper to which Maryam Hosseinkhah
contributes. : website of the Association
of Iranian Women (Farsi). : Iranian feminist
website (Farsi). : website of the
Circle of Human Rights Defenders (Farsi).

1 comment:

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