In Iran, the Internet is a tool for resistance and espionage

In Iran, the Internet is a tool for resistance and espionage

On 12 December, the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for 2012 “for freedom of mind” to both the lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and movie director Jafar Panahi. But none of these two Iranians were there to receive their award, both having been sentenced to imprisonment or house arrest.
 
With the increasing repression in Iran, resistance to the regime has been organising itself, thanks to the Internet. Indeed, Iran is the most Internet connected country in the Middle East, with over 36 million users out of a population of 75 million people. And since the last presidential election in June 2009, this country has being experiencing the darkest side of human rights. Still, repression is increasing.
 
To go over the restrictions, the Iranians have developed a resistance which is getting more connected to the web:  it’s “A loophole in the control system,” says Hanieh Ziaei, a researcher at the University of Paris-Diderot and the University of Ottawa. Despite all the government filtering, “Facebook is still much used and bloggers are still active on the Internet.” Blogs create a free space of expression, about social issues, culture and also political debates. It is also a great means to exchange information for the people in exile who live outside the country and want to stay informed about what is happening inside the country. 
 
But pressure on the bloggers has been getting higher; their life has been even threatened. So as to escape the government services tracking blogs, games of cat and mouse have been played. Once a blog is closed, it gets reopened under another name.
 “In Iran, there is a real presence of what is called” Net citizens, “says Hanieh Ziaei. The fact that the government is trying to control the web by all means, through filtering measures, shows that this form of resistance has been acknowledged.
 
Internet is mainly used by Iranian educated classes, people who are rather urban, aged between 20 and 45 years, and who have the means to pay for faster Internet access to download images and movies. It has grown rapidly as the Iranian population is highly educated and lives more and more in cities, where internet access is facilitated.
But the government cannot ban the Internet as it is a way to control and check who does what. As confirmed Ziaei Hanieh: “The Internet is a tool for espionage.”
 
Realizing about the importance of these new networks, such as YouTube, where the video of the young Neda, shot and killed by the militias of the regime who has become a symbol of the repressive regime in 2009 can still be seen – the Iranian government is fighting back. A few days ago, they started their own YouTube to promote “value products“, according to the vice-president of the Iranian radio and television (Irib) Lotfollah Siahkali.
 
The government has also announced the launch of a “national Internet“, besides the global network, which is intended to be used by government bodies, businesses and individuals.
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