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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in public More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid