Caspian Weekly, August 21st, 2009
Another report about torture in Iran just surfaced. This time it was 19-year-old Mohammad K. who was arrested during Iran’s post election unrest and was locked up in the Kahrizak detention facility. All but two of his upper teeth had been knocked out. His nails had been pulled out.
His head had been bashed in. His kidneys had stopped working. The stitches around his anus appeared to indicate a rape. He died shortly thereafter, at a Tehran hospital. But his story is still making waves.
Our newspapers and screens have been flooded with stories pictures of brave young men and women who protested in demand to get their stolen votes. Some pictures, like that of Neda, the 26 year old woman who was brutally shot dead by Iranian security forces, became iconic and reached almost every major screen in the world in a matter of hours. But it is interesting to note that all of this is happening while the Iranian government has blocked much of the country’s communications in an attempt to stop the flow of pictures and videos getting to the outside world.
Iran uses what the OpenNet Initiative calls “one of the most extensive technical filtering systems in the world.” Responding to the recent wave of protests, Iran unveiled a new high-tech apparatus that effectively instituted a three prong internet strategy based on blocking internet communications, the production of counter communications and intimidation of dissidents.
Iran’s blocking lists, containing tens of thousands of websites, are controlled by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. Following the disputed June 12 presidential election, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were also added to the growing list of blocked websites.
In addition, the government has increased its tracking ability which now enables it to trace computers from which images and videos of Iran ‘s protests are sent out to the rest of the world – a technology that has led to the arrest of a number of bloggers and activists in the last few weeks. And as if this is not enough, the government has adopted a pro-active approach with websites such as http://www.gerdab.ir/ that posts pictures of demonstrators and asks people to identify them for the purpose of arrest and punishment.
Nevertheless, technologically speaking, blocking the internet is almost a futile battle. Iran’s internet environment is simply too large and too savvy to be blocked. There are over 600 internet providers in Iran and although they are all subject to the supervision of the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI), their manual installation of surveillance and filtering software means that they vary in terms of their filtering ability.
There is wide spread availability of software to overcome many of these filter systems, either by bypassing the software or by using a proxy server. Iranian dissidents such as Ahmed Batebi have helped develop a software application that enables users to trick some of the censorship systems while confusing the identification of local IP addresses.
The Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIF) – an initiative that was originally started by Chinese-American practitioners of Falun Gong for bypassing the sophisticated Chinese internet filtering system, was also dispatched to Iran. This system, used by approximately 400,000 in Iran, has helped get many of the YouTube and Twitter pictures out despite Iranian censorship efforts.
The Iranian regime understands all of this and, hence, if they cannot shut down the message – their next best tactic is to shut down the messengers.
According to Reporters without Borders, Forty-one Iranian journalists and bloggers have been detained in the one month since the disputed June 12 presidential elections. Most of them are below 25 years of age.
The crackdown on the Iranian youth is so severe that even children of former or current officials of the regime are not immune. A case in point is the late Mr. Mohsen , whose father Dr. Abdulhossein Rooholamini was a close adviser to General Rezai, the former head of the Revolutionary Guards and a senior adviser to the minister of health in Ahmadinejad’s cabinet.
Mr. Mohsen Rooholaminin a computer major, was arrested during a street protest on the anniversary of the Student uprisings. According to his father, all his attempts to find and release him from prison came to nothing until last week when he received a call from prison officials informing him of his son’s death! Human rights groups have documented well over 100 such deaths since the election. Over 200 others, accused of being “agents of the unrest” and “members of anti-revolutionary groups” remain in prisons and detention centers. These are the new enemies of the Islamic revolution: Young, determined and fearless.
Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck once said that “The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.” And this appears to be the case when it comes to Iran. This generation of young Iranians might achieve what only a few short weeks ago seemed impossible: fighting to end the evils of the Islamic regime in Iran and regain their freedom. They have a story to be told. It’s dramatic and passionate at times. But they must share their story as this may be their only way to win. Please watch and help to spread the word. You may well see history in its very making.
Nir Boms is the vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East and a senior contributor to CyberDissidents.org . Shayan Arya is an Iranian activist, member of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran and associate researcher at the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.