Posts Tagged Iran

Lessons from Iran: Using Facebook to Become A More Effective Autocracy

7 December 2009

Six months after a fraudulent election threw Iran into spasms of violence and exposed to the world the true autocratic nature of the Islamic Republic, a new round of protests and suppression have arisen around National Student Day– a holiday to mark the killings of three students by the Shah in 1953. Thousands of Iranian students gathered at Universities in Tehran and elsewhere today, where they chanted slogans against their government. As in June, the government sent in the paramilitary Basij militias, who used tear gas, electrical truncheons and stun guns to break up the protests. Robert Mackey at the Lede has been offering the most regular, comprehensive updates of the protests as they have unfolded.

Iran’s oppression hasn’t gotten much attention since the summer’s protests concluded, but the government has continued their sinister crackdowns– and they’ve gone global. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday on a series of interviews conducted with Iranians living in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere. Many of the interviewees who had spoken out against the regime reported having received threatening messages via e-mail or Facebook, and some were intimidated with threats against their family members still living in Iran.

Five interviewees who traveled to Iran in recent months said they were forced by police at Tehran’s airport to log in to their Facebook accounts. Several reported having their passports confiscated because of harsh criticism they had posted online about the way the Iranian government had handled its controversial elections earlier this year.

An Iranian engineer in his 30s who lives in a German-speaking area of Europe, and who attended protests there this year, described having his passport, cellphone and laptop confiscated when he later traveled to Tehran. He said he was called in for questioning several times, blindfolded, kicked and physically abused, and asked to hand over his email and Facebook passwords.

Iran ProtestersInterrogators showed him images of himself participating in protests in Europe, he said, and pressed him to identify other people in the images.

“I was very scared. My knees were trembling the whole time and I kept thinking, ‘How did this happen to me?’” he said recently. “I only went to a few demonstrations, and I don’t even live in Iran.”

He said he was told he was guilty of charges including attending antiregime protests abroad, participating in online activities on Facebook and Twitter that harmed Iran’s national security and leaving comments on opposition Web sites. He said he was given a choice: Face trial in Iran, or sign a document promising to act as an informant in Europe.

He says he signed the paper, took his passport and left Iran after a month. He says he has received follow-up emails and phone calls but hasn’t responded to them.

As I wrote the other day, this kind of thing is a chilling reminder that these incredibly powerful technologies can be badly abused, and in the hands of a government with bad intentions, can be turned on their head in the service of oppression, rather than freedom. To take a historical perspective on this phenomenon– much as I dislike Nazism/Hitler analogies, FDR wasn’t the only one who mastered radio to his political advantage…