The mullahs muzzle their people again

The mullahs muzzle their people again

: The New York Times reports today on the continuing crackdown on (read: repression of) speech in Iran, including the shutdown of web sites and blogs and the arrests of bloggers.

As part of its crackdown, the government has blocked hundreds of political sites and Web logs. Three major pro-democracy Web sites that support President Mohammad Khatami were blocked in August….

The crackdown suggests that hard-liners are determined to curtail freedom in cyberspace. Many rights advocates had turned to the Internet after the judiciary shut down more than 100 pro-democracy newspapers and journals in recent years.

The number of Internet users in Iran has soared in the last four years, to 4.8 million from 250,000. As many as 100,000 Web logs operate, and some of them are political.

The move to block Web sites has the support of a senior cleric, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, who declared in September in the hard-line daily newspaper Kayhan that Web sites should be blocked if they “insult sacred concepts of Islam, the Prophet and Imams,” or “publish harmful and deviated beliefs to promote atheism or promote sinister books.”

When the most recent wave of arrests began in September, authorities arrested the father of one Web technician, Sina Motallebi, who has taken refuge in the Netherlands. Mr. Motallebi had his own Web log and helped run one of the political Web sites. The father, Saeed Motalebi, was held for 11 days and then released.

“It seems that they do not want to deal with political figures who are behind the Internet sites and are willing to pay a price for what they are doing,” said Alireza Alavitabar, a political scientist who is involved in the Emooz Web site.

“Instead they want to deprive the Web sites of their staff and the capability to run them,” he said….

Omid Memarian, who was arrested Oct. 10, was a journalist and a well-known figure among private aid groups. He had his own Web log in both Persian and English….

“They want to find out how the Web sites are run, intimidate these young people and put an end to this medium,” said Rajabali Mazroui, Hanif Mazroui’s father.

The judiciary is drafting a law that will define cybercrimes. The chief of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, has said the law will define the punishment for “anyone who disseminates information aimed at disturbing the public mind through computer systems.”

They will fail. This can’t be stopped now.