Internet used to promote, suppress Iran movement

February 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The pro-democracy movement is spreading in the Middle East. Thousands of people took to the streets Tuesday in Yemen, Bahrain and Iran, where the Internet is being used to both promote the movement and suppress it. The Internet is a powerful tool giving a voice to protesters in the streets, but it's also helping Iranian authorities silence dissent around the world.

Outside a popular Iranian restaurant in San Francisco, customers told ABC7 they couldn't talk about the protests in Iran. A half-dozen other places told us not to even bother stopping by.

"That's probably because they're afraid to go back to Iran. They'll probably grab them and they don't want that," said Hossein Malek from Mill Valley.

Malek laughed a bit, but he's not joking. He told ABC7 Iranian-Americans are afraid the government in Tehran is using the Internet to monitor local news stories in the U.S.

"They're watching everything, absolutely. I'm not going back, so that's why I'm talking to you," said Malek.

You might think that is a little far-fetched, but another man who didn't want to give his name said, "You know it's difficult because some of us have to go back." Every Iranian-American ABC7 spoke with on Tuesday said it is an issue talking to the media.

The Internet has given global reach to both sides in Iran.

"They stop a lot of search keywords, you know, and you cannot search that word," said Sasha Soofi, a restaurant manager.

Soofi said Iran's government and the protesters are playing a cat and mouse game. Videos of protesters in Tehran will pop up on websites such as YouTube, the government shuts them down, and then they appear somewhere else.

On Tehran's government-controlled television, the information control is blatant. One report said, "The rioters opened fire on bystanders killing a university student and leaving over a dozen people injured."

Government-sectioned reports blame the protesters and the west for supporting the illegal demonstrations. Iranian lawmakers are shown chanting for the executions of the two men who opposed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the last election.

Abdallah Edwan of Link TV showed ABC7 the broadcasts and the competing coverage from Dubai and other sources outside of Iran. When asked if people in Iran are able to see the alternate version, he said, "Only maybe on the web."

But at Stanford, Iranian expert Prof. Abbas Milani and author of a new book on the Shah is convinced Iran's current regime will lose.

"The Internet, social networks, Facebook, Twitter, satellite technologies, all of these have made our world a much smaller place and very inhospitable territory for despotism and those who claim to have a monopoly of truth," said Milani.

Reports from outside Iran say it was the Iranian security forces that fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the protesters. Opposition groups report scores of people were killed in Tehran.


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