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Ctrl+Alt+Delete: Iran's Response to the Internet

1.2.2. Migration of Expression to the Internet

Web surfers in Iran quickly realized the potential of the Internet. One striking development was the launching of the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) on November 4, 1999. This influential news agency, staffed mostly by university students, continues to post breaking news stories on its website but does not publish a physical newspaper.81 By early 2000, websites were being created by news organizations, and by 2001 a few blogs were being published by individuals.82 In September 2001, Hossein Derakhshan,83 an Iranian journalist residing in Canada, set up his own blog in Persian. Shortly thereafter, responding to a request by a reader, he published a guide on creating Persian language blogs. This simple innovation led to an explosion of personal blogs at the same time as Persian newspapers and other media outlets began creating their own commercial sites. While estimates of the numbers of Persian blogs vary greatly between thousands and tens of thousands,84 it is undeniable that Persian is overrepresented on the Web and especially in the blogosphere.

Iranians from almost every sector of society began to use this easily accessible means of communication. Consequently, Iranian websites and blogs create a complex online public communications network. This network consists of websites and blogs that are dedicated to discussing varying topics such as politics, religion, sports, movies, arts, culture, and particularly poetry.85 For others, blogs serve as a means of communicating with loved ones around the world, either directly or by simply recording activities and thoughts in a daily or weekly journal. There is a great deal of political and theological discourse from commentators representing every imaginable ideology—from secularists to reformists to conservatives— delivering their views on countless issues including human rights, drug abuse and the environment.86

As in other countries, Iranian government agencies and politicians began using the Internet as well. Government-controlled news agencies were early adopters of the Internet. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) began accessing the Internet in 1996 and established its website in 1997. In 2003, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, then-Vice President to Mohammad Khatami, began publishing an influential blog, which he continues to maintain. On his blog, he shares anecdotes, relates his daily activities and expresses his frustrations with Iranian politics.87 The Supreme Leader has a website where one can ask him questions regarding Sharia law. It also features recent news stories, a biography, a library of Islamic laws, and a photo gallery. Similarly, the Office of the Presidency has a website. However, from mid- 2006 until the end of 2007, President Ahmadinejad also blogged on a separate website.88

Predictably, activists and journalists resorted to publishing their materials online after facing censorship in the traditional media.89 Sina Motalebi, a journalist working for reformist newspapers in Tehran, began his blog in 2001 because online, he finally felt “free and uncensored.”90 Arash Sigarchi, a journalist and editor of Gilan-i Emrooz, began blogging in March 2002, and only a few months later realized the potential of this new medium:

[81]For a review of the Iran Students News Agency website, see generally www.ISNA.ir/ISNA; see also Daniel Engber, What’s with the Iranian Student News Agency?, SLATE, Feb. 2, 2006, available at http://www.slate.com/id/2135342/ (last visited Apr. 20, 2009).
[82]OPENNET INITIATIVE, supra note 11, at 5; NASRIN ALAVI, WE ARE IRAN 1 (2005). A blog is a kind of diary or journal posted on the Internet. Id.
[83]Derakhshan is currently being held in Iran for what seem to be charges of insulting the leadership on his personal blog. Quvviyih Qaza’iyih Iran Bazdasht-i Hossein Derakhshan ra Ta’id Kard [Hossein Derakhsan’s Arrest Confirmed by the Judiciary], BBC PERSIAN, Dec. 30, 2008, available (in Persian) at http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2008/12/081230_ag_jb_derakhshan.shtml (last visited Apr. 20, 2009).
[84]Sources range from close to twenty thousand to nearly seventy thousand blogs. See, e.g., ALAVI, supra note 82, at 1.
[85]JOHN KELLY & BRUCE ETLING, BERKMAN CENTER FOR INTERNET & SOCIETY (HARVARD UNIVERSITY), MAPPING IRAN’S ONLINE PUBLIC: POLITICS AND CULTURE IN THE PERSIAN BLOGOSPHERE 7 (2008), available at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2008/Mapping_Irans_Online_Public (last visited Apr. 20, 2009).
[86] Id.
[87]Nazila Fathi, An Iranian Cleric Turns Blogger for Reform, N.Y. TIMES, January 16, 2008, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/16/international/middleeast/16iran.html?_r=1 (last visited Apr. 21, 2009); see also http://www.webneveshteha.com/ (last visited Apr. 21, 2009). Abtahi later resigned from his post in protest.
[88]See http://www.ahmadinejad.ir/ (last visited Apr. 21, 2009). It seems that Mr. Ahmadinejad stopped blogging around December 2007.
[89]ALAVI, supra note 82, at 1; Mark Glaser, Iranian Journalist Credits Blogs for Playing Key Role in His Release from Prison, ONLINE JOURNALISM REV., Jan. 9, 2004, available at http://www.ojr.org/ojr/glaser/1073610866.php (last visited Apr. 21, 2009); see generally Witness Statement of Sigarchi, supra note 59
[90]Clark Boyd, The Price Paid for Blogging Iran, BBC, Feb. 21, 2005, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4283231.stm (last visited Apr. 21, 2009) [hereinafter Price Paid for Blogging].

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Free Speech, Right to Protest, Cyber Journalism, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Free Association, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination