Wednesday, March 29, 2006

ON IRANIAN BLOGGING

Another interesting look at the ways in which the Iranian regime is cracking down on bloggers was published in Business Week yesterday.
In the conservative Islamic Republic, where the government has vast control over newspapers and the airwaves, weblogs are one of the last bastions of free expression, where people can speak openly about everything from sex to the nuclear controversy. But increasingly, they are coming under threat of censorship.

The Iranian blogging community, known as Weblogistan, is relatively new. It sprang to life in 2001 after hard-liners -- fighting back against a reformist president -- shut down more than 100 newspapers and magazines and detained writers. At the time, Derakhshan posted instructions on the Internet in Farsi on how to set up a weblog.

Since then, the community has grown dramatically. Although exact figures are not known, experts estimate there are between 70,000 and 100,000 active weblogs in Iran. The vast majority are in Farsi but a few are in English.

...

To bolster its campaign, the Iranian government has one of the most extensive and sophisticated operations to censor and filter Internet content of any country in the world -- second only to China, Hopkins said.

It also is one of a growing number of Mideast countries that rely on U.S. commercial software to do the filtering, according to a 2004 study by a group called the OpenNet Initiative. The software that Iran uses blocks both internationally hosted sites in English and local sites in Farsi, the study found.

The filtering process is backed by laws that force individuals who subscribe to Internet service providers to sign a promise not to access non-Islamic sites. The same laws also force the providers to install filtering mechanisms.

...

The debates on Iranian weblogs are rarely political. The most common issues are cultural, social and sexual. Blogs also are a good place to chat in a society where young men and women cannot openly date. There are blogs that discuss women's issues, and ones that deal with art and photography.

But in Iran, activists say all debates are equally perceived as a threat by the authorities. Bloggers living in Iran understand that better than anyone else.

"I am very careful. Every blogger in Iran who writes in his/her name must be careful. I know the red lines and I never go beyond them," said Parastoo Dokouhaki, 25, who runs one of Iran's most popular blogs. "And these days, the red lines are getting tighter."

Dokouhaki doesn't directly write about politics. She sticks mostly to social issues, but in Iran, that is also a taboo subject.

"I write about the social consequences of government decisions and they don't like it, because they can't control it," said Dokouhaki.

Outright political bloggers have an even tougher time.

Hanif Mazroui was arrested in 1994 and charged with acting against the Islamic system through his writings. He was jailed for 66 days and then acquitted.

"It's normal for authorities to summon and threaten bloggers," said Mazroui. The government continued to harass him and three months ago, he was summoned once again by the authorities and told never to write about the nuclear issue. Soon after his release, he shut down his weblog.

"They kept pressuring me," he said.
As you might expect, the article gives a couple more examples of punishments meted out to Iranian bloggers who dared to criticise the current regime. Read it all.

Mentioned in the piece is the Community to Protect Bloggers. If you visit their site and like what they do, I notice they have a donations box. No pressure, mind.

(Hat-tip: Mikey)

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