A yearning to speak freely in Farsi


In September 2001, a young Iranian journalist, Hossein Derakhshan, devised and set up one of the first weblogs in his native language of Farsi. In response to a request from a reader, he created a simple how-to-blog guide in Farsi, thereby setting in motion a community's surreal flight into free speech; online commentaries that the leading Iranian author and blogger, Abbas Maroufi, calls our "messages in bottles, cast to the winds".

With an estimated 75,000 blogs, Farsi is now the fourth most popular language for keeping online journals. A phenomenal figure given that in neighbouring countries such as Iraq there are less than 50 known bloggers.

The internet has opened a new virtual space for free speech in a country dubbed the "the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East", by Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF). Through the anonymity and freedom that weblogs can provide, those who once lacked voices are at last speaking up and discussing issues that have never been aired in any other media in the Islamic world. Where else in Iran could someone dare write, as the blogger Faryadehmah did, "when these mullahs are dethroned ... it will be like the Berlin wall coming down ..."?

In the last five years up to 100 media publications, including 41 daily newspapers, have been closed by Iran's hardline judiciary. Yet today, with tens of thousands of Iranian weblogs there is an alternative media that for the moment defies control and supervision of speech by authoritarian rule....


n April 2003, when Sina Motallebi, a web-journalist, was imprisoned, Iran became the first government to take direct action against bloggers. Sina's arrest was only the beginning and many more bloggers and online journalists have been arrested since. As RSF puts it: "In a country where the independent press has to fight for its survival on a daily basis, online publications and weblogs are the last media to fall into the authorities' clutches ... through arrests and intimidation, the Iranian authorities are now trying to spread terror among online journalists".

Recent reports have also suggested that the authorities are seeking to implement a national intranet, which would separate Iran from the world wide web. But technological trends may be working in favour of free speech, as even China has not been able to fully contain the free flow of information.


Iranian weblogs allow us to eavesdrop on the personal conversations of a closed society, providing a unique momentary glimpse into the inner struggles that a burgeoning young population face, the steady shift of an ideological state, and a revolution within the revolution. As the political satirist and star of Iranian blogsphere, Ebrahim Nabavi, puts it: "After 25 years fortunately we have exported our revolutionary ideas to the whole world ... Europe, America and Asia ... but we have exported all of it ... so there is none left at home ... but the leaders of our country cannot be bothered to announce this to the world".


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