Digital Graffiti in Teheran

By Nir Boms and Shayan Arya

Iran Times International

Many pictures that make their way from the streets of Teheran. You might have seen some of them; those of besieged revolutionary guards; those of burned military bicycles or helmets or those of dying protestors who lost their life for the sake of their call for a different future. And there are also those  graffiti’s on the wall. “Death to the dictator,” or “Down with Khamenei” they say, accompanying the protesters as they serve as silent witnesses to this current round of cruelty and violence. And this reminded us of another wall in another part of the world.

A famous graffiti entitled “Curriculum Vitae” is still visible on the remaining segment of the Berlin Wall. This resume is short and simple. Black numbers cover the gray wall that start in 1961. The following years are added, painted black on gray until the year 1989 brings it some color. The artist, Susanne Kunjappu, is proud at her creation that can be found, along with others at the East Side Gallery where some of the yearning expressions for freedom from those years are still kept. Art is a message and a good reminder that the freedom to paint did not always exist there. But new walls have been erected since, some of which appear to be more sophisticated than those of Berlin.

Iranians like to write – even when walls are less available around them. Take Seyed Mojtaba Peymoude, a seminary student who runs a Persian blog called “Yek Nafar Talabeh” (“A Seminary Student”).  In his recent post entitled “Who are we?”,  he writes: Everyone is complaining! (From) The Buyer! (To) The seller! (From) The Driver! (To) The Passenger! (From) The People! (To) The Government! Women! Men! Girls! And Boys! Everyone is complaining! …..Talking about morality in our society these days feels like screaming under water when no one hears you! The number of our injured in this soft war (ideological war between secular and religious forces) is rising and we may get killed at the end!

Another blogger, a young seminary student who goes by the pseudonym M.A.B and has a blog of his own (http://mahdibedashti.blogfa.com/), wrote in the comments section of Mr. Peymoudeh’s blog: “I am tired! I am tired! Do you understand! You tell me. What are we supposed to do? One of these days soon I am going to throw my turban against the wall and throw myself down a well! I no longer know which part of this religion I am supposed to explain to the people! As soon as I open my mouth! They (the people) show me the streets with their fingers and say “look”! “Look at the streets!” (This refers to the street demonstrations and the mass’ dissatisfaction with the Islamic regime”).

Comments like these which were common on the mostly secular Iranian blogs appear to penetrate deeper and appear more frequently on weblogs of those who publicly proclaim their loyalty to the Islamic regime. These comments speak volumes about the devastating effects the recent demonstrations have had on supporters of the regime. It is also not a good sign for the morals of those who are supposed to support the Islamic regime. So it is little wonder that the regime is desperately trying to block them.

Since it is difficult to control what comments people might make on the Internet, the Islamic regime is trying to force the bloggers to do the dirty job of censorship themselves.

Take the example of Ali Behzadian-Nejad, nephew of the presidential contender Mir Hossain Mosaavi’s campaign manager. He has been sentenced to six years in jail, not for the content of his own weblog, but for the comments his readers had posted on it. It seems that the Islamic regime is trying to use this tactic to send a strong message to the bloggers giving them a warning – Censor your readers or we will hold you responsible for what they write on your blog!

Although his harsh six year sentence seems to be the first, Ali Behzadian-Nejad is not the first blogger to get into trouble with the Islamic regime due to his readers’ comments. Take the case of Yazdnegar, which belongs to Mr. Mehdi Zamanzadeh, an employee of the Government News agency for ISNA  in the city of Yazd. His last  post entitled “Watch Out You Iranian Blogger” (http://yazdnegar.blogfa.com/post-744.aspx) was about  particular cases in the city of Yazd where two other bloggers got into trouble, apparently not for what they had posted on their blogs but for what their readers had posted on their comments section.

One of the blogs called Yazd Khabar-Mirza Benevis http://yazdkhabar.blogfa.com/ (Yazd News by Mirza- Benevis which is a pseudonym), was shut down. Another blogger, Mr. Mohammad Reza Shog-ol-Shoara who owned Toufan-e-Yazd (Yazd’s Storm), (http://toofaneyazd.blogfa.com/) got embroiled in a complicated legal affair due to comments his readers had posted on his blog. Mr. Zamanzadeh, bewildered by the government’s actions, concludes his post with a warning to bloggers: “Watch out so you won’t lose your green head for other people’s red comments.”

Napoleon Bonaparte once said: “A people which are able to say everything becomes able to do everything.” And that seems to be exactly what the Islamic Regime in Iran fears most . The fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago serves as a good reminder that words and dreams cannot be silenced forever. The people in the streets of Teheran appear to already understand that. Luckily, the virtual walls allow us to carry these words a little faster than before. Hopefully, as a new decade begins, they will force more of us to listen.

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