Lillian Swift, The Telegraph UK: Iran's war on weblogs - the new voice of dissidents
Iran is fighting a constant battle against dissenters who are using the internet to voice criticism of the Islamic Republic and to push for freedom and democracy. With the closure of most independent newspapers and magazines in Iran, blogging - publishing an online diary - has become a powerful tool in the dissidents' arsenal by providing individuals with a public voice.
An Iranian blogger known as Saena, wrote recently: "Weblogs are one weapon that even the Islamic Republic cannot beat."
There are an estimated 100,000 active blogs written by Iranians both within the country and across the diaspora. Persian ties with French as the second most common blogging language after English.
Over the last year, however, Iranian authorities have arrested and beaten dozens of bloggers, charged with crimes such as espionage and insulting leaders of the Islamic Republic. Among them is Omid Sheikhan, who last month was sentenced to one year in prison and 124 lashes of the whip for writing a blog that featured satirical cartoons of Iranian politicians.
The press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders last week named Iran as one of 15 countries who were "enemies of the internet".
"These new measures point to an ideological hardening in the Iranian government and a desire by the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to centralise authority," its report said.
There is no legislation against blogging itself but the writers can be charged by authorities in the hardline theocracy with "morality violations" for the content of their websites.
Nevertheless, Iranians are increasingly turning to blogs and those who can publish their words in English hope they will reach a wider international audience and alert them to the problems facing free-thinkers within Iran.
The blogs offer everything from reprinting articles published in the international press about Iranian issues to views on the president's recent call for the destruction of the state of Israel and Iran's attempts to become a nuclear power. Some writers use the platform as an opportunity to voice opinions that would not be tolerated in the national press.
In one entry yesterday a blogger calling himself Persian Dissident wrote: "How long can this go on? His [President Ahmadinejad] ministers are terrorists, political prisoners are in jail, political in-fighting is clearly visible."
But the Iranian authorities are fighting a losing battle to crush these new outlets of dissent. As fast as one perpetrator is tracked down and closed, another rises in its place and takes up the cause.
The authorities have reportedly spent millions on programmes designed to filter cyberspace and block access to controversial sites, with names such as "regime change Iran", "free thoughts on Iran" and "women against fundamentalism". READ MORE
As part of the most recent clampdown, reported in the reformist newspaper Shargh, Iran's Telecom company has ordered all service providers to block access to blogrolling.com, a free service enabling users to track their favourite weblogs and be informed when they are updated.
In one of the 1,500 internet cafes in Teheran, a technician bemoaned the loss of an important tool but was still able to access a blocked site within five minutes.
"There are ways around it but it is getting harder and it is very annoying," he said. "It is possible to trick the authorities into believing that we are not in Teheran but somewhere else".
The Telegraph is reporting what we have heard for a long time that the regime has blocked our site. Guess who the 1 or 2 Iranian readers of our blog are (see the sidebar’s neocounter report of nations reading our blog). These readers often post pro-regime comments here. That is why we started our blogosphere supports real democracy in Iran campaign.