Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Internet Censorship in Iran

Iranian blogger, Hossein Derakshan, The Guardian:
The week the new president of Iran was sworn in, bloggers suddenly found themselves isolated: their blogrolls (a list of favorite blogs on the side of their own) had disappeared. Why? Because, the popular website that provided the free service, was being filtered by all ISPs in Iran. READ MORE

Internet censorship officially started almost a year ago when a three-member committee - later a five-member committee - was formed to watch Iranian websites and blogs and decide which ones the ISPs should filter. Ever since, aside from millions of pornographic websites, hundreds of Iranian blogs and websites have become inaccessible through their normal web addresses. (Proxies are hugely popular, before these are themselves filtered.) A scientific study partly sponsored by Harvard University suggested many of these websites and blogs were political.

However, in the past few months online services such as Orkut (Google's social networking service), the website statistics service Nedstats and Flickr (Yahoo's photography community website) have been filtered by major ISPs. Nobody knows whether it was the committee for internet filtering that banned them or the judiciary, which has recently - despite having a member on the committee - started to order ISPs directly to censor the sites.

Frustrated and hopeless, Iranian bloggers feel threatened more than ever now's service has become inaccessible. As one blogger wrote, they see this a "deliberate assault" on the extremely large network of Iranian bloggers, which has effectively become the symbol of free speech in a country where the state has total control of the press, TV and radio.

With the ultra-conservative president now in power, everyone is waiting to see how the communications and information technology minister deals with Persian-language political content on the internet. Will the authorities embrace the internet as an influential source of news and information, as they did during the election campaigns with their numerous official and unofficial campaign websites? Or they will intensify filtering and, as conservative bloggers have suggested, start to go after those who write weblogs "insulting" the regime's officials and religious figures?

After all, one blogger, Mojtaba Samienejad, is still in jail serving a two-year sentence for "insulting the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic", and two other bloggers, Mojtaba Lotfi and Morteza Abdollahinasab, were recently released after spending months in jail for the same reason.