Statement by a group of Iranian bloggers about the Presidential elections and the subsequent events

From Kamangir, who tell us this has been posted on a number of major Iranian blogs:

Statement by a group of Iranian bloggers about the Presidential elections and the subsequent events

1) We, a group of Iranian bloggers, strongly condemn the violent and repressive confrontation of Iranian government against Iranian people’s legitimate and peaceful demonstrations and ask government officials to comply with Article 27 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution which emphasizes “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”

2) We consider the violations in the presidential elections, and their sad consequences a big blow to the democratic principles of the Islamic Republic regime, and observing the mounting evidence of fraud presented by the candidates and others, we believe that election fraud is obvious and we ask for a new election.

3) Actions such as deporting foreign reporters, arresting local journalists, censorship of the news and misrepresenting the facts, cutting off the SMS network and filtering of the internet cannot silence the voices of Iranian people as no darkness and suffocation can go on forever. We invite the Iranian government to honest and friendly interaction with its people and we hope to witness the narrowing of the huge gap between people and the government.

A part of the large community of Iranian bloggers

July 26, 2009

Posted in Elections, Iran. Comments Off on Statement by a group of Iranian bloggers about the Presidential elections and the subsequent events

Cracking Down on Digital Communication and Political Organizing in Iran

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Cross-posted on the ONI Blog

The Internet and mobile phones have taken on a major role in Iranian politics over the last several months. As protests over the contested election results continue in Iran, the government has dramatically increased its control over digital technologies. Many important Web sites have been blocked over the past couple of days, including the Web sites of the opposition parties in Iran, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. While political organizers have learned to leverage the organizing power of Web 2.0 tools, government censors in Iran are quick to shut them down when they are most effective. None of this is surprising; it reflects similar events seen in many places around the world.

Digital tools have been shown to be effective political organizing tools, from the Obama presidential campaign in the US to Ukraine, Colombia and Moldova. As powerful as new technologies may be as political tools, information and communication technologies have also been proven to be exceedingly fragile; in countries where the government has sufficient latitude to interfere with the use of these tools, they are easily disrupted and if necessary, can be shut down entirely.

The role of information and communication technologies in Iranian politics has matured rapidly over the past year. Political opposition groups in particular have adopted new online and mobile phone-based organizing tactics, using Facebook, Twitter, Web sites, email, cell phones and SMS and the full suite of Web 2.0 tools as mechanisms for political organizing. This is has all taken place in a highly restrictive media environment in which the Internet and other forms of digital communication are intensely regulated. Facebook has been blocked and unblocked several times in the past year. The rationale and legal justifications for censoring Internet communications are broad. Anything construed as anti-Islamic or damaging to the Iranian state can be blocked by what amounts to executive fiat, although there are many voices within the institutions charged with blocking web sites in Iran.

Earlier reports that the government shut down the Internet entirely during the June 12 elections appear to be exaggerated. Jim Cowie at Renesys looked at the evidence from international routing data and indeed found evidence of some strange events in Iran’s traffic to the outside.

However, the Internet is still up in Iran, though reports from inside Iran suggest that it is much slower than normal and a broader range of websites are being blocked. The fact that Iran has invested so much in blocking Internet content might mean that they have greater confidence about keeping tight controls over content available in Iran without shutting down the Internet entirely, as Burma had done in the face of popular protests there.

After a large surge in SMS traffic in the run-up to the election, multiple sources inside Iran reported that the country’s SMS networks went down just nine hours before the polls opened. This is unsurprising, as SMS has been used in many places as a powerful tool for organizing protests. Reporters Without Borders reports that the SMS take-down was part of attempt to prevent opposition supporters from collecting election results.

By Saturday, all mobile phone services had been shut off in Tehran. Plans by an organization led by former president Rafsanjani to carry out election monitoring using cell phones might have factored into this decision. Cell phone service was restored on June 14, but SMS continues to be blocked.

Western media sources have covered the news as it unfolds, although some US media outlets have been criticized for not focusing more attention on the events in Iran. The government has not thrown western journalists out of the country, though it has made reporting difficult. The BBC has traced the jamming of one of its satellites, which has interrupted access to radio and television for audiences in Iran, the Middle East and Europe, to a location inside Iran.

Despite the tightening restrictions on communications tools, citizen journalists inside Iran have been hard at work. Video clips are widely available on the net, as are photos of Iranian voters and post-election protests. Although YouTube and DailyMotion are both blocked, we were able to upload a small video to Vimeo. The generally slow Internet speeds will hinder the upload of large files.

ONI has confirmed the expansion of blocking over the past several days, making access to ongoing reporting of events as well as political organizing far more difficult for Iranians. In the past several days, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have been blocked. The English version of BBC is now blocked; the Persian version has been blocked for months. Websites of the major opposition candidates are all blocked, including Mousavi’s website  mirhussein.com) and Karoubi’s website  teribon.com). The blog host, blogfa.com, has been down for several days now, preventing many Iranian bloggers from updating their blogs.

We tested the thirty web sites that receive disproportionate attention from the reformist segments of the Iran blogosphere and about half of these are not blocked, including norooznews.ir, webneveshteha.comemruz.bizemruz.infoyaarinews.com, mowj.ir, maryamshab.blogfa.commirhussein.commasoudbehnoud.com, drmoeen.ir and noandish.com. Among those not blocked include ghalamnews.ir, aftabnews.ir and khatami.ir. (Thanks to John Kelly for the list of sites that we tested. This is derived from the blogosphere mapping work of John Kelly and Bruce Etling).

In response, some pro-democracy activists are targeting government Web sites with DDOS attacks in an attempt to strike back at the current regime. While they have had some success – leader.ir, ahmadinejad.ir, and iribnews.ir were reported to be down – experts worry that the attacks may be used by the Iranian government to justify their own filtering or, worse, may cripple the Iranian network as a whole. (Note: Leader.ir was back up when we tested. Ahmadinejad.ir and iribnews.ir were still down.)

Many years of Internet filtering have prompted the development of circumvention tools by and for Iranians. Many Internet users in Iran have become adept at getting past the Internet censors there. An unintended consequence is that there are many sophisticated users and tools that are prepared to circumvent government attempts to limit access to online sites. This increase in filtering associated with the elections can be expected to increase the demand for access to and knowledge about circumvention technology.

These measures to further limit access to information around the contested election results are not going to help the current the Iranian government if it seeks to build legitimacy.

Mapping Iran’s Blogosphere on Election Eve

By John Kelly and Bruce Etling

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Based on our monitoring of the Iranian blogosphere on election eve, it looks like Mousavi has broader support in the online blog community than Ahmadinejad. (For a broader understanding of the different attentive clusters in Iran check out our new online interactive Iran blogosphere map). The below maps show who is linking to websites associated with the candidates. It’s pretty interesting to see the contrast between Ahmadinejad  emtedadmehr.com), whose links are very concentrated in the Conservative Politics cluster, and Mousavi  mirhussein.com), whose links come from all over the map, not just the reformist politics group.

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We are particularly struck by how many links come from the poetry cluster, which rarely links to political sites. Also, Moussavi has even more links from the CyberShi’a than Ahmadinejad.

This online interest doesn’t necessarily translate to the offline world, but it may indicate a broader level of excitement about Mousavi in the electorate, particularly among those outside his expected base of supporters, which could ultimately lead to higher voter turn out for Mousavi.

As Hamid Tehrani wrote earlier this week, YouTube is being used a lot by Iranians in this election. Here is one of the YouTube videos most linked to by reformists.

And here is the video most linked to by conservatives, which Hamid pointed to earlier in the week as an example of conservatives trying to discredit Khatami, who has supported Mousavi since he dropped out of the race himself.

Iran experts caution against trying to predict election winners Iran (because we’ve been surprised before), and we’d caution against predicting a Mousavi win just on this analysis, but it is certainly interesting to see the larger level of online support for Mousavi on the eve of the election. We’ll have to leave it to the voters at this point.

Some additional data and analysis on Iran’s election eve blogosphere is posted on Morningside Analytics Shifting the Debate blog. You can also catch an interview and find all of Hamid Tehrani’s posts on the Internet and the Iranian election on the PBS Web site.

Check back here next week for the big release of our Arabic blogosphere paper and accompanying event at USIP.

Al Jazeera on Mousavi’s New Media Campaign

Following up on Hamid’s post yesterday, Al Jazeera English has a story on how the Mousavi campaign is using the Internet, including Facebook and SMS, to its advantage in the Iranian presidential election. Money quote from the Mousavi campaign:

For us the Internet is like the air force in a military campaign. It bombards the enemy’s positions and lays the groundwork for the infantry, our volunteers, so that they can win battles on the ground.

Minus the military analogy, this is not dissimilar from what we heard from the Obama campaign last year.

Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan

YouTube Shows Different Faces of Iranian Election

By I&D guest blogger Hamid Tehrani, Iran editor of Global Voices and co-founder of the March 18 Movement

The Iranian Presidential election will take place this Friday, and YouTube has been used both by Iranian citizens and politicians as a dynamic instrument during the campaign. Here, I would like to share a few examples to illustrate how YouTube has become a vibrant, interactive medium of expression in the hands of Iranians.

1. Fact Checking: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied, during a televised debate with one of his reformist candidates that he ever claimed a “halo” surrounded him during a U.N. address in 2005. A video clip on YouTube shows that Ahmadinejad did in fact argue that a “light enveloped him during his address to the U.N. General Assembly and that the crowd stared without blinking during the entire speech.”

2. Demands beyond candidates’ campaign platforms: Rakhshan Bani Etemad,a leading female director, made a film where various women activists talk about their own demands.

3. Creativity: One video appearing on YouTube compares former Prime Minister, Mir Hussein Mousavi to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the tune of the old Broadway tune, ‘Anything You Can Do’. The text at the end of the film concludes that Mousavi is more rational than Ahmadinejad, whose policies he argues have damaged Iran’s economy

4. Discrediting the Opposition: There is another YouTube film that targets former Reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, who is campaigning for Mousavi.
A couple of hundred Azeri students held a protest against Khatami for making this joke, and asked Mousavi, who is Azeri himself, to condemn Khatami. Meanwhile, Khatami has claimed the film is a fake montage.

5. Campaign Events: Mehdi Karroubi, former Speaker of the Parliament, and his supporters forcefully broke through the gates of Amir Kabir University when he was banned by university authorities from delivering his speech.

6. Campaign films: Candidates promote their own campaign films on YouTube. Ahmadinejad’s supporters published dozens of films to promote his campaign.

7. Get Out the Vote: Iranians in 25 cities around the world came together to encourage people to vote.

8. Citizens in motion: Candidates’ supporters are dancing and celebrating each night after each presidential debate.

Facebook and Iranian Election Redux

Hamid Tehrani and CNN report that Facebook is up again in Iran. Berkman’s new Herdict Reporter tells us that over the last few days Facebook was indeed inaccessible to some users in Iran, but, reflecting the distributed filtering model that Iran seems to employ, it was still accessible by some users depending on their ISP. These days I always go straight to Herdict to see what actual users in country are saying about filtering in real time instead of relying solely on press reports, and I’m deeply appreciative of the users in Iran that give us reports of what is blocked. For more on filtering in Iran check out Hamid’s excellent overview at Global Voices. As we’ve cataloged on this blog over the last couple months, it seems that filtering of Internet content by political threats like former president Khatami has been part of an overt strategy by the government.

A number of blogs and traditional media outlets, including those in Iran, reported that Facebook was blocked by Ahmadinejad in an attempt to thwart his more net savvy opponent Mousavi’s online campaign–although Ahmadinejad now denies it. Hamid has been doing a wonderful series on the use of social media by the Presidential candidates including reformists like Mousavi as well as Ahmadinejad and the least effective online campaigner, former Revolution Guard leader Mohsen Rezai. Unfortunately, the campaign has become far less interesting since former President Khatami dropped out in favor of Mousavi, but many speculate he was pressured to drop out since he was a larger threat to Ahmadinejad than Mousavi.

In the end, the Facebook debacle is another black eye on the election process in Iran, which has elements of a democratic election but falls far short of minimal ‘free and fair’ standards due to, first and foremost, the ability of small body of clerics, the Guardian Council, to approve or reject candidates, to say nothing of the limits on free speech and political organization in Iran. Let’s hope that the apparent easing of tensions between the US and Iran leads to an opening in the political process in the country. A smart first move might be for the Obama administration to ease restrictions on US social media providers who have users in Iran.

Thai “Red Shirt” Unrest Spurs Censorship Dragnet

In reaction to the ongoing and violent anti-government “red shirt” protests, the ruling Democrat Party of the Thailand has ordered a broad range of media outlets connected to the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (or UDD) shut down. This sweep delivered gag orders to radio stations, the satellite television network D Station and at least 67 political websites with links to the UDD.

The picture of what’s happening on the ground has been blurred by the barring or mistreatment of journalists by both sides. The ruling party, seized by crisis fever, is locking down any media perceived to be “inciting violence” with the unintended consequence, as Reporters without Borders put it, of increasing the “climate of fear” around Bangkok. The Thaksin demonstrators (see here for TwitPic updates and images of the unrest) have not been entirely innocent either, reportedly roughing up several TV crews and expelling reporters from the protests.

The government’s reaction is premised on a heavy handed survival impulse. It’s true, some of the protests have descended into violence, and the perception that social chaos is being spread by pro-Thaksin media probably has truth to it. On the other hand, punitive media-unfriendly martial law seems unlikely to assuage the supporters of a movement who feel wrongfully ousted by the 2006 coup and the banning of the PPP back in December 2008 (for more of the run up to this conflict, read this). Now, adding to the uncertainty of the social fabric, blue shirts, evidently supported by royalists, have joined the fray.

Nor is the unaligned portion of the Thai public likely to take kindly to the broad and hysterical censorship crack-down, which risks making the “red shirts” more powerful or bringing the military storming back in. In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Thaksin himself, exiled for the past three years in Dubai, has urged aging king Bhumibol Adulyadej to intervene and encourage reconciliation. The king, revered by the Thais, has been charateristically silent.

UPDATE: Evidently MICT, the Thai telecommunications authority, has lifted the emergency decree on websites related to the “red shirt” cause. The list of formerly blocked websites is here. Freedom Against Censorship Thailand, a WordPress blog which agitates for free internet speech remains somewhat inexplicably blocked by Thai ISPs.

Connecting India: Why Elections Need The Web

With over 700 million voters, India is the world’s largest democracy. Naturally, electoral fraud is a frequent problem. But social media may be changing that bleak picture. Guarav Mishra, a current Yahoo! Fellow and co-founder of Vote Report India, has been working to ensure fair (or fairer) elections, not by relying on international observers, but by appealing to the strength of India’s “digital” civil society.

How does civil society go “digital”? By adapting social networking technology and blogs to important civic aims like transparency, clean electoral practices and democratic legitimacy. Web-savvy young Indians — jolted into democratic participation some say by the horrific Mumbai terrorists attacks (see my coverage here) — are versatile with web 2.0 media, Twitter and, of course, SMS. Mishra’s Vote Report India, for example, builds a dynamic map (a la Al-Jazeera’s Gaza coverage) based on user-submitted reports of electoral abuse. Users can upload this data in a variety of ways:

By sending a message starting with VoteReport to 5676785
By sending an email to  report at votereport.in
By sending a tweet with the hashtag #votereport
By filling a form at the website

Despite India’s bewildering diversity of languages, customs and religions, technology is building a bridge to more robust civil society. I am heartened by the cacophanous and lively blogospheric debates about the elections, which now compete with the Indian MSM and party propaganda machines for attention (see Guarav’s round-up here).

The toleration of dissent and the encouragement of debate is key to democratic functioning, and so it’s also remarkable that these discussions include the voice of India’s Muslim minority and in broader contexts the vigorous debate over Varun Ghandi’s comments. Things aren’t perfect (see this recent Atlantic piece about the BJP in Gujarat), but blogs, SMS and Twitter are strengthening India’s democratic pulse.

Alabama Considers Overseas E-Voting

It was hard not to chuckle a bit when I first read this. Alabama? E-Voting? And yet, making up for abysmally slow absentee vote processing in the 2008 elections (roughly 80 days), the Alabama State Legislature is now debating a bill that would provide secure channels for e-voting to Alabamans overseas. The plan is modeled on a similar system used in parts of Florida (hanging chads?).

The bill seems particularly targeted at military personnel. Alabama is a heavy recruiting ground for the Army, which enlisted over 6,000 new soldiers from Alabama in the past three years alone. Regardless, so long as the system can be reasonably hack-proof — I still worry about Estonia, though Switzerland had some positive test results — this is a positive step toward making technology serve democratic participation. Here’s hoping other states will catch on.

The Internet and the 2008 US election: participation and/or fragmentation?

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has just released a report on the role of the Internet in the 2008 US election, which analyses trends in how people consume political news & information and the ways they use the internet to engage with politics. Here are some of the key findings:

More than half  (55%) of the voting-age population has used the Internet to get involved in the political process during the election year (74% of Internet users).

The survey findings show that the Internet has become a paramount tool for people’s engagement in the political process, not only as a source of information (60% of Internet users have gone online to look for political information in 2008 compared to 22% in 1996), but as a tool for active participation. 18% of Internet users actively engaged online by posting comments on the campaign on online forums such as blogs or social networking sites and 45% watched online videos related to the campaign.

Young voters  (18-24 year olds) showed the highest levels of political involvement online. They engaged heavily in the political debate through social networking sites: two-thirds of young people with a social networking profile took part in some form of online political activity. Read the rest of this entry »