REGIONS:

SUBSCRIBE:

Sign up for weekly updates

Offensive against new media stepped up

(RSF/IFEX) - The Iranian authorities had been stepping up their control of news and information ahead of the demonstrations that took place on National Students Day on 7 December 2009. Internet access has been slowed right down or blocked in Tehran and other major cities. SMS messaging and mobile phone connections have been suspended or jammed. At the same time, the accreditation of foreign journalists has been suspended for 72 hours and there has been an increase in cases of journalists being threatened or arrested in the past week. Everything indicates that the authorities carefully prepared and coordinated a strategy to suppress all planned demonstration and make people think the situation has been normalised.

"This is the first time that censorship measures affecting all forms of media have been adopted so early, several days ahead of (the 7 December) demonstrations, with the aim of preventing the opposition's attempts to rally its supporters by such means as social networks and mobile phones," Reporters Without Borders said. "The pretext of maintaining order cannot be used to justify this reinforcement of censorship. It represents a serious violation of the right of Iranians and the international community to be informed."

The Iranian censors targeted the new-generation media with renewed energy. The authorities have responded, blow by blow, to demonstrations in recent months but this is the first time they have acted with so much anticipation.

Internet connections have been blocked or slow since 5 December, especially in Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz, making it difficult or impossible to surf the Internet or send emails, several sources in Iran told Reporters Without Borders. One referred ironically to broadband speeds of less than 56Kb (dial-up speed). The Gmail and Yahoo! welcome pages do not display. Access to proxies is haphazard, complicating the use of censorship circumvention methods to access such blocked websites as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. Mobile phone and SMS service are also suspended or jammed in many parts of the country including Tehran.

Agence France-Presse quoted technicians as saying these problems were the result of a "decision by the authorities" rather than any breakdown in service. The main Internet service providers use the network of the state-owned Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Despite the existence of privately-owned companies, the state dominates this sector and any instructions it issues are immediately implemented.

Websites that usually relay opposition views such as Ayandenews ( http://www.ayandenews.com ) and Mizanews ( http://www.mizanews.com ) have been inaccessible for several days.

Farhad Sharfai, a blogger who defends women's rights, was arrested on 2 December in Khorramabad. Another journalist and blogger who is very active within the student movement, Foad Shamss, was also reportedly arrested a few days ago.

The mobile phones of some demonstrators were seized by the security forces while an as yet undetermined number of persons taking photos or filming the events with their mobile phones were arrested.

This exceptionally vigorous offensive against new-generation media has coincided with implementation of the various measures usually applied to the traditional media in anticipation of this kind of event.

The accreditation that journalists working for foreign news media need in order to be able to work on the streets has been suspended for 72 hours in order to prevent them from venturing outside their offices to cover the demonstrations.

Twenty-eight journalists and bloggers are currently detained. Several journalists have been summoned for questioning in various cities in the past few days.

According to the official news agency Irna, four national pro-reform dailies ("Etemad-e Melli, Hayateno", "Aftab-Yadz" and "Asrar") received warnings from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance about not publishing statements liable to provoke public order disturbances. The warnings were issued after they published statements by Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani criticising the government.

The 7 December demonstrations were held to commemorate the deaths of three students as they were participating in protests against the Shah during a visit by US Vice-President Richard Nixon in 1953, a few months after a US-backed coup against a democratically-elected prime minister. The anniversary has become a symbol of resistance to the Shah and, more broadly, the fight for popular sovereignty.

Around 50 journalists and bloggers have fled the country to escape a relentless crackdown since the disputed 12 June presidential election. In view of the scale of this exodus, Reporters Without Borders has launched an appeal for financial support for these journalists and bloggers, who find themselves utterly destitute as they search for a safe refuge.

Click here to make a donation
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying


Latest Tweet:

Joint statement from 10 international NGOs calling for judicial harassment of Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham to… https://t.co/O1G6tdxoDw

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.

CLOSE