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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

ILO: Women Still Losing Out in Global Work Place

International Labor Organization says women are marginally better off now than they were 20 years ago 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.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More