Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dissident Watch: Arash Sigarchi

Rachel Hoff, The Middle East Quarterly:
On January 17, 2005, Iranian security forces arrested 28-year-old Iranian journalist and weblogger Arash Sigarchi for espionage and insulting leaders of the Islamic Republic. Sigarchi, editor of the daily Gilan Emrooz (Gilan[1] Today), had antagonized regime officials with outspoken dissent on two blogs, Panjareh-yi Eltehab (Window of Anguish) to which he was a regular contributor, as well as his own blog. READ MORE

Sigarchi was aware of the dangers of his actions. His posts chronicled the arrests of fellow bloggers. He spoke out against the abuse of two fellow bloggers, Shahram Rafihzadeh and Rozbeh Mir Ebrahimi. In 2004, Iranian authorities arrested and beat more than twenty other blogging dissidents. Sigarchi had himself been harassed by the police who detained him for several days in August 2004 after he posted online an article with photos of a dissident rally in Tehran.[2]

Nevertheless, Iranian dissidents are increasingly penning blogs to voice criticism of the Islamic Republic and to push for freedom and democracy. With an estimated 100,000 active Iranian blogs, Persian is now tied with French as the second most common blogging language after English.[3]

Sigarchi's most recent arrest coincided with an Iranian government crackdown on blogging. Sa‘id Mortazavi, Tehran's chief prosecutor, ordered Internet service providers to block access to several blogs including Sigarchi's site.[4]

On February 22, a revolutionary tribunal in Gilan sentenced Sigarchi to fourteen years in prison.[5] On March 18, a court in the provincial capital of Rasht released Sigarchi on bail pending an appeal. However, four other prominent Iranian bloggers and web journalists--Mojtaba Saminejad, Najmeh Omidparvar, Mohammad Reza Nasab Abdolahi, and Mojtaba Lotfi--remain in prison.[6]

Blogging has revolutionized dissent in Iran. By providing private citizens a public voice, blogs may be the most powerful tool in the dissidents' arsenal. As an Iranian blogger known as Saena wrote, "Weblogs are one weapon that even the Islamic Republic cannot beat."[7] As the cases of Arash Sigarchi and other imprisoned bloggers show, though, the Iranian regime is trying to crush these new outlets of democratic dissent. Throughout the Middle East, the race is on between journalists opening new websites and regimes such as the Islamic Republic trying to censor cyberspace. While Western governments have a stake in the bloggers' success, neither the White House nor the State Department have spoken out publicly in support of Sigarchi and his colleagues.

Rachel Hoff is a research assistant at AEI.


[1] Gilan is a province in northwestern Iran, bordering the Caspian Sea.

[2] BBC Monitoring World Media, Jan. 21, 2005.

[3] Time Magazine, May 9, 2005.

[4] BBC Monitoring World Media, Jan. 21, 2005.

[5] BBC Monitoring Middle East, Feb. 23, 2005.

[6] BBC Monitoring World Media, Mar. 18, 2005.

[7] Time Magazine, May 9, 2005.

Source Notes: This article appears in the Fall 2005 issue of The Middle East Quarterly.