Web liberation in the Islamic Republic needs more than lip service

Iranian dissidents clearly need more global support but surely backing from the US government is sending the completely wrong message?

At a time when the Obama administration is pressing for harsher sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, democracy advocates in Iran have been celebrating the recent decision by the United States to lift sanctions on various online services, which they say only helped Tehran to suppress the opposition.

But it is still a long way from the activists’ goal of lifting all restrictions on trade in Internet services, which opposition leaders say is vital to maintaining the open communications that have underpinned the protests that erupted last summer after the disputed presidential election. In recent months the government has carried out cyberwarfare against the opposition, eliminating virtually all sources of independent news and information and shutting down social networking services.

The sanctions against online services — provided through free software like Google Chat or Yahoo Messenger — were intended to restrict Iran’s ability to develop nuclear technology, but democracy advocates say they ended up helping the government repress its people. “The policies were contradictory,” said Ali Akbar Moussavi Khoini, a former member of Parliament who now lives in Washington, where he pressed for the change.

The new measure will enable users in Iran to download the latest circumvention software to help defeat the government’s efforts to block Web sites, and to stop relying on pirated copies that can be far more easily hacked by the government.

But the government’s opponents say they need still more help in getting around the government’s information roadblocks.

“The Islamic Republic is very efficient in limiting people’s access to these sources, and Iranian people need major help,” said Mehdi Yahyanejad, the founder of one of the largest Persian-language social networking Web sites, the United States-based Balatarin. “We need some 50 percent of people to be able to access independent news sources other than the state-controlled media.”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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