News / Middle East

In Iran, Internet is Lifeline and a Noose

William Ide

Following last year's hotly contested elections in Iran, the Internet, social networking sites, blogs and cellphones were an empowering tool in the hand of opposition forces and everyday citizens.  One year later,  the same technologies are not only being used to silence the Iranian government's critics and dissent, they are helping to create an environment that analysts and bloggers say is more dangerous and severe.  

Iranian journalist and blogger Omid Memarian says the pictures and videos that were posted online last year showing protesters taking to the streets and authorities crushing dissent gave the world a rare glimpse of Iran's leadership.

"I think that the most important thing that has happened after the Iranian elections is that the image that we have of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the image that we have from Iranian authorities, we have seen how brutal they can be, and how they can be harsh against their critics," said Omid Memarian.

Listen to Bill Ide's complete audio report:


The international media group Reporters Without Borders says during the past year, at least 170 journalists and bloggers have been arrested in Iran, and 22 have been sentenced to jail terms totaling more than 135 years.

Memarian says it has become riskier than ever in Iran to write and criticize the government.

"They have filtered the Internet," he said. "They have even sentenced those who have sent text messages to their friends.  So, they have tried to dominate the narrative and block the flow of information and, to some extent, they have been successful."

The deputy director of programs at the U.S.-based rights group Freedom House, Daniel Calingaert, says while videos and photographs of events on the streets of Iran are still getting on the World Wide Web, activists are being more careful about how they use the Internet.

"If you look back a year, activists and ordinary citizens were very open about what they would say on the Internet and how they would exchange information," said Daniel Calingaert. "And in the meantime, the Iranian regime has become a lot more sophisticated with surveillance, with intercepting e-mail communications.  In many cases, we know that when activists are arrested or detained, one of the first things that they are asked is their e-mail password."

Calingaert adds authorities use the passwords to look at the activists' contacts and communications.  Authorities are also using photographs posted on the Internet to identify protesters and round them up.

"It is tougher and it is a lot more dangerous," he said. "The regime has been very brutal toward activists in person.  There are several who have been executed even.  But, at the same time, the Internet is still a lifeline for information both, to stay in touch, for activists outside to stay in touch with fellow activists inside, and for people inside to tell people outside what is going on."  

Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law Director Larry Diamond says in past two years states like Iran and China have started to use technology more effectively than their critics.

"Authoritarian regimes have probably made more progress in suppressing, surveilling, controlling and manipulating, the use of the Internet and related digital technologies than democratic and civil society forces have made progress in utilizing them to advance freedom," said Larry Diamond.

Diamond says that part of the reason is that authoritarian countries are working together to silence dissent.

"We have growing evidence [authoritarian regimes] are actively sharing their methods and techniques and transferring software and technical skills across boundaries that promote authoritarian censorship of the Internet, including Internet filtration systems," he said.

Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department launched an effort to promote Internet freedom around the world.  A key goal is to give Internet users tools to help them get around government controls and have freer access to the Web.

The Freedom House's Calingaert says such efforts to bypass filtering are important and helpful, but they should not be a substitute for traditional human-rights efforts by Washington.

"If you look at the case of Egypt for instance, there is very little filtering," said Calingaert. "I mean the Internet has pretty much anything anyone wants to say is there.  But the most high-profile bloggers are in jail, and that sends a pretty clear message to other bloggers who want to be critical about the regime.  Anti-censorship tools are not going to solve that problem."

Diamond says the online clashes between authoritarian governments and dissidents involve very complex battles, and the skill and resolve on each side is constantly evolving, making it difficult to predict the ultimate outcome.

"I think that eventually these technologies will outrun the capacities of authoritarian regimes to manage them and will be a net plus in terms of the expansion of freedom and the promotion of democracy in authoritarian countries around the world," said Diamond.

Iranian journalist and blogger Omid Memarian agrees that eventually Tehran's monopoly over the media and information will be broken, even though fighting the government comes at a very high price.  And once it is, he is optimistic that changes will come quickly.   

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

3-day Lockdown to Fight Ebola Continues In Sierra Leone

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid