: Mark Glaser interviews Sina Motallebi, the Iranian blogger who was arrested for what he said online but is now free and out of Iran in great measure, he believes, because of the pressure and attention brought to bear by the blogging community.
It happens that I found Hossein (Hoder) Derahkshan’s weblogs only a day before Sina was arrested and when I went back the next day I saw the news and started spreading it myself. As Hoder said then: “NOTE: Spreading the word may help him to be released earlier. help spread the news!” We all joined in; there were links everywhere. And as a result of the attention from weblogs, the story appeared in the press (here’s a story I wrote in the Star-Ledger).
And now Sina says that kind of power can reach right into the interrogation cell:
They questioned me about my Weblog, and they accused me of counter-security activities [being a security threat], both for my Weblog entries and for my interviews with foreign radio like Radio Free Europe and French International Radio. They summoned me five times before arresting me [last] April 20. On April 19, they called me and asked me to go to a special office of the law enforcement, and then I posted an entry on my Weblog saying I think this time they will arrest me.
Before I hadn’t written anything about being summoned or going to court or anything like that, because they said, ‘You must not say anything about the summoning to court and the interrogation.’ So they prevented me from writing something about it. But for the first time, because they summoned me not to court but to a special law enforcement office — where another journalist was arrested — I was almost sure this time they wanted to arrest me. So I put an entry about it on my Weblog. The next morning, when I was ready to leave the house, I saw the first feedback for that entry — both from comments of visitors and on some other Iranian Weblogs.
I think that entry helped me very much, because at the interrogation when they arrested me, they said ‘nobody knows about your case.’ And I said, ‘No, I wrote something about that on my Web site.’ It was the first time somebody had seen the reactions to his arrest, before he actually was arrested….
One time I was interrogated while blindfolded. Saeed Mortazavi, a judge who shut down many reformist newspapers and now is the prosecutor of Tehran, was in the room and I easily recognized him from his voice. Other interrogators called him ‘grand (or great) Haji.’ He questioned me about some of my posts on my Weblog and then said, ‘Now we make you an example for other Webloggers and will show them that Weblogging is not a free [means of expression] without any cost. We will show that they must pay the expensive costs of their writings in this way.’ …
They didn’t expect the pressure from Webloggers and foreign media in my case….
But the community of bloggers came together and helped me, and spread the news around the Web, and became united. There was a petition with more than 4,000 signatures on one site. And there was coverage of the story in the foreign media. And there was pressure from other countries that were concerned with human rights. I think they found the cost of arresting me more than they thought before.
Beware, tyrants, your people are now armed. They’re armed witha network.