Don’t abandon Iran’s internet generation to online oppression

A Green Movement supporter and activist in Tehran writes: Imagine you live in a country like the Oceania of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where Big Brother seeks to control almost every aspect of your life, particularly your interaction with the media — determining the news and information to which you are permitted access and watching every move you make on the Internet. Imagine yourself struggling to open a small window in the invisible but all too real wall erected by the ruling system to take a peek at reality, or to scream out so others might hear that you exist and are hurting. You want to feel what it is like to live emancipated, if not in the real world at least in the cyber realm. You are aware that every time you make such an attempt, the government is likely to detect it, and if it feels threatened in any way by your activity will hunt you down and throw you in one of its grim prisons. You hold out hope that those who enjoy freedom on the “other side” do not forget you, and if they do not lend a hand in opening that little window, at least will not act, however unwittingly, in concert with Big Brother.

Yet that is the gist of what now confronts Iran’s Internet generation, the young people whose courageous defiance of the engineered presidential election of 2009 brought Iranians’ long-stifled aspirations for democracy and freedom to the world’s attention. The situation has been highlighted by the death last week of Sattar Beheshti, 35, a Green Movement supporter who maintained a blog in which he criticized the regime and its treatment of political prisoners. A laborer living in one of Tehran’s poorest suburbs, Beheshti — despite not using his full name on his blog page — was tracked down and arrested in early November by the Islamic Republic’s cyber police. His death was reportedly the result of torture he endured during interrogation.

Beheshti’s tragic death underlines the deeply besieged mentality of Iran’s theocratic regime and how far it will go to suppress any voice of popular opposition. The aftermath of the 2009 election impressed on the government the grave danger posed to it by a free flow of information and an informed citizenry. An enormous amount of money was allocated to the acquisition of some of the world’s most sophisticated systems for monitoring and tracking electronic communications, restricting the Internet, and jamming satellite broadcast signals. [Continue reading…]

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