Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Perils of Being an Iranian Blogger

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), an Iranian blogger named Reza Valizadeh has been arrested for reporting that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad purchased bomb sniffing dogs for his security detail. Unfortunately, his arrest is just one example of the Iranian regime's crackdown on free expression, as RFE/RL's report makes clear:

Valizadeh's arrest comes two days after dozens of Iranian journalists and intellectuals issued a statement to protest the jailing of journalists who are critical of the Iranian government.

One of the signatories, journalist Issa Saharkhiz, told Radio Farda on November 26 that a government crackdown on journalists has intensified in recent months. "There are some who are sitting and thinking of ways to fill up Iran's prisons. Unfortunately, we now see this not only in Tehran but also in the provinces," Saharkhiz said.

Saharkhiz added that journalists and media workers have lost their jobs as a result, and society has been limited to a "single voice."

In recent weeks, several journalists have been detained or charged in cities like Ahvaz, Rasht, and Sanandaj.

Iran was ranked 166th of 169 countries in Paris-based Reporters Without Borders' index of world press freedoms, published last month.

Iranian officials, including Ahmadinejad, insist there is freedom of speech in Iran. But journalists are frequently charged with security-related crimes.

Rights groups say the atmosphere for free speech has deteriorated since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005.

Even exiled Iranian bloggers are not totally safe from the machinations of the regime, as Arash Kamangir, who is attending university in Canada, has found out. In a recent piece for Pajamas Media, Kamangir described what happened when an Iranian official discovered his blog:

My efforts to help the flow of information from the Iranian blogosphere into the English-speaking audience and media has deeply irritated those who want to build a wall of denial to hide their atrocities.

As a result, on October 27th, 2007, Alef, a website known to be owned by a high-ranking conservative Iranian MP, published a piece about my blog. The report referred to my ongoing research on the state-run media’s incomplete quote from the Norwegian Foreign Minister’s speech at the United Nations University in Tokyo.

“He claims that the sentence ‘West must be more concerned with their own arsenal, rather than pointing at Iran and North Korea’ is made up. The blogger mentions that he will follow the story with the Foreign Ministry of Norway”, wrote the author. The piece then followed with mentioning my real name accompanied by two pictures of me and describing me as “a resident of Canada whose blog is frequently referred to by the media and the warmonger neo-con blogs (including Pajamas Media and Gateway Pundit)”.

It followed, “His blog is the number one source of anti-Iran news from the Iranian blogosphere for the neo-con media. The content translated by him, regarding President’s speeches, Iranian missiles, stonings, executions, the social security project, and so on, have been enthusiastically followed by the neo-con blogging networks. During last few months, he has increased his presence in the Persian blogging atmosphere, and also Iranian social networks, in order to direct anti-Iran content.”

(Emphasis added-DD)

In Kamagir's words, the official's publication of his real name and pictures "has jeopardized my safety". Though he states that this was not the first time it happened, it's clear that the Alef piece was a crude attempt to intimidate Kamangir into silence.


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