Iran's Besieged Bloggers
In the land of the ayatollahs, online opinion journalism can be a dangerous pastime.
"Iran has the grim distinction of having arrested and jailed the most bloggers," says the journalist watchdog group Reporters Without Borders in its annual report released today.
Twenty Iranian bloggers were jailed between autumn 2004 and summer 2005, according to RSF. One of them, Mojtaba Saminejad, age 23, has been in jail since February 2005. He was given a two-year sentence in June for insulting the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini.
Saminejad's offense -- reporting on the arrest of other bloggers. Last February, BBC reported that Saminejad had been held in solitary confinement for 88 days and beaten and tortured. Saminejad's blog (in Farsi) has been poignantly inactive ever since.
Worldwide some 70 cyber-dissidents are in jail, according to RSF. The group lists 15 countries as "Enemies of the Internet" -- Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, Libya, the Maldives, Nepal, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
In Tunisia, for example, the family of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali "controls national access to the Internet and he has built up very effective censorship, with the websites of all opposition publications and many news sites blocked," according to RSF.
Despite the repression, popular Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, aka Hoder, says Iran's bloggers have succeeded in creating a public sphere in which "a relatively equal, interactive and collective debate" can happen beyond governmental control.
His blog has an English translation of an interview he recently did with Jetzt.de, the e-zine of Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung news site. Hoder said he believes bloggers are representative of Iranian opinion because higher education is still free in Iran. "A lot of these bloggers are introduced to the concept of blogs in their computer labs and update them from there," he said.
But Iranian bloggers need outside help, he said. The Toronto-based Hoder is especially frustrated by what he says is the Iranian government's filtering of Google Groups, "since I just managed to move email subscribers to my blog from another service to Google Groups."
Hoder said he hopes Google will devise a way for readers to confirm their subscription to groups by email, instead of going to Google Group's Web site. "Dear Google! We really need you help," he wrote last week.