Hossein “Hoder” Derakshan tells us that a clear indicator of the power of blogs in Iran is the fact that a 73-year old Ayatollah in Qom is now discovering that he needs to change his domain name periodically to avoid domestic filtering by Iranian censors.
Hossein tells us that, while 10% of Iranians as a whole have net access, huge numbers access the Internet from public sites, which means that some sites have up to 500,000 visitors a day. 70% of Iranians are under 30 years of age, and these are the main audience for blogs.
The government views blogs as potentially threatening to their regime, not because of their work in disseminating information – satellite television stations in the US and Europe beam a great deal of information into Iran. But the Internet is unique because it allows people to connect to one another and to organize.
Hossein explains some of his motivations for blogging, saying that he’s “as anti-Bush as I am anti-Khamenei”. He makes it clear that he’s not pro-US, not being funded from the US and pro-reform. This was a useful bit of context, as Hossein spent much of his time talking about the recent elections in Iran, which he considers rigged and illegitimate.
Hossein’s blogging began in 2001 when began blogging in Persian. His blog became popular quickly, and found himself needing to write a guide for bloggers to answer all the questions he was receiving. Using his guide, about 3,000 blogs were started in Persian. Then a number of companies started Persian language blog services. Now there are more than 700,000 blogs in Persian, written by bloggers inside and outside Iran.
Blogs in Iran can be concieved of as windows, bridges and cafés. They let people see what can going on in other people’s lives. They can build bridges that connect genders, people inside and outside the country, and bring politicians and their supporters together. A blog from an Iranian reforist candidate received up to 1000 comments on some of his posts, showing a clear dialog between politicians and candidates. And blogs as cafés allow discussions – on topics like nuclear enegry – which can’t take place in any other media.
Blogs have gotten some Iranians into trouble. Mojtaba – whose blog wasn’t very popular, with less than 50 readers – landed him in prison because he “insulted” the supreme leader of Iran. Hossein tells us that he was held and interrogated the last time he was in Iran and informed that he wouldn’t be allowed to easily come back to Iran while he was writing online about such sensitive topics.
The first two questions from the audience came from Tunisians to Hossein, who asked him very pointed, and largely off topic questions about his views on Iranian politics. The first question basically accused Hossein of being a western plant, based on his excellent spoken English. We’d been warned by the leaders of other sessions that contingents of Tunisian government supporters were attending sessions and asking off-topic questions that were designed to express support for the Tunisian government. Hossein handled the questions well, making it clear that he was born and raised in Teheran, wasn’t representing either the US or Iran, but his own opinions.
The room got very tense during Hossein’s talk – I found out after the fact that a number of people, who we believe to be Tunisian security forces, were trying to push their way into the (already very crowded) room as he spoke. Hossein handled the situation well – he was his usual unflappable self – confident, opinionated and eminently his own man, whether denouncing the recent elections or making it very clear that he’s a proud Iranian.