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

The conservative Majlis responded to these developments by amending the Press Law in 2000. This allowed conservative elements to use their power base in the Judiciary—specifically the Press Court of then-Judge Saeed Mortazavi—to close dozens of newspapers and magazines and to arrest prominent Islamist reformist editors, including Akbar Ganji.73 After the initial purge, the conservative authorities “resolved to tame the journalists in hopes of controlling the content of newspapers, and preventing them from writing about ‘dangerous’ topics.”74 A few newspapers were allowed to reopen, but they were closely monitored by Mortazavi, who was appointed Prosecutor of Tehran in 2003. Those operations that displayed too much independence were shut down as quickly as possible.75 Others, whose staff members were deemed unlikely to cooperate, were shut down before they could publish a single issue.76 Another common strategy was to regularly call editors and instruct them on how to handle specific news items and demand their presence at instructive meetings on the Red Line.77

Faced with the very real threat of being shut down, not to mention being imprisoned, editors and managers began to pay closer attention to the Red Line. For many, there was no value in “heroically crossing the Red Line, getting shut down and losing that vital link with the people.”78 Thus, selfcensorship became increasingly more prevalent. Editors censored the work of journalists without the need for threatening phone calls or reminders of the Red Line.

[E]very newspaper had its own pawn, who was not necessarily [the Judiciary’s] pawn, but rather the person who received the phone calls and was told what to do … This person was slowly turned into a small Mortazavi within the newspaper … and would censor things on his own … They managed to create a Mortazavi in every newspaper.79

In light of this editorial censorship, many journalists who were willing to suffer the penalties associated with crossing the Red Line, especially the younger generation, felt marginalized and sought other mediums in which to report and share their opinions.80 They migrated to the Internet.

[73]Id. at 216.
[74]Witness Statement Sigarchi, supra note 59, ¶ 2.
[75]“Some examples include the newspaper Nusazi, which was shut down after two or three issues, and Bunyan, which published four or five issues.” Interview with Roozbeh Mirebrahimi (Feb. 1, 2009).
[76]“[The team of Shahrvand-i Imruz] was supposed to republish Ariya. As soon as they attempted to publish an issue, the news was spread on some Internet sites. They were called and told ‘You can’t publish; you are shut down.’” Interview with Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, supra note 75.
[77]Id.
[78]Maggie Pour, The Art of Journalism, NAMAK, 2005, at 18, available at http://www.namakmag.com/issue0102/redlines.html (last visited Apr. 20, 2009) (quoting the filmmaker Taghi Amirani discussing censorship of journalists in Iran).
[79]Interview with Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, supra note 75.
[80]Id.

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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