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May 31, 2005

Dozens of Iranian bloggers arrested

From Wired:

Soon he hopes to head back to Iran. On June 17, Iranians will go to the polls to elect a president. Derakhshan wants to be there to post reports on his blog, Editor: Myself (www.hoder.com). "I have this little window where I can go home," he says, eyeing the retro-punks squeezing past the table on their way to the bar. "But it will still be very dangerous for me. On one hand, Iran will be on its best behavior because of all the foreign press covering the election. On the other hand, all it would take is one week of torture to give me years of nightmares."

Derakhshan left the country in 2000 after conservative judicial authorities shut down Asr-e Azadegan, the reformist newspaper where he was a daily tech columnist. Eleven other papers were closed at the same time, and hundreds of journalists lost their jobs. "I remember walking into the paper that day, and everyone was staring silently at their desks," he says. He ended up in Toronto, where he found a job with the BBC's Persian service.

But Derakhshan missed writing for an Iranian audience, so in 2001 he set out to create a weblog that could reach his old column's readers. He figured out a way to combine Unicode and Blogger.com's free tools to handle Persian characters. Suddenly, blogging in Persian was as simple as it is in English. His site - written in both Farsi and English - covers everything from Iranian campaign tactics to the synth stylings of French musician Jean Michel Jarre. At its height in February, his blog received 35,000 pageviews a day.

The Unicode breakthrough helped ignite massive growth in Internet readership in Iran. "There were all these journalists who didn't have a venue, and all these readers who missed the reformist papers." By last year, 5 million Iranians were using the Internet in the nation of 69 million, and an estimated 100,000 blogs.

Then the Mad Mullahs caught on....

...At first, "the clerics didn't really understand what they were," he says, so they didn't bother shutting them down. But last June the Iranian judiciary put in place a more sophisticated filtering system that blocks Iranian access to political Web sites and blogs. (Derakhshan's traffic immediately dropped by half.) Then in September, officials got serious, arresting, interrogating, and even jailing some of the country's bloggers, according to human rights groups. Two of those writers, Mojtaba Saminejad and Mohammad Reza Nasab Abdolahi, remain in prison.

Posted by Danny Carlton at May 31, 2005 09:01 AM

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