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Free speech

Not about Sina
The Islamic Republic is now targetting sprouting Internet writers

April 25, 3003
The Iranian

A reporter called to follow up on Sina Motallebi's situation. He had probably picked up my name from the petition and wrote to get my phone number. He said he had just talked to a relative of Sina's and they had preferred not to comment at this time or take any further action. Their concern was understandable and probably warranted.

The reporter was asking if I planned to withdraw the petition based on the same rationale. I didn't have to think about it for a second. The answer was no. I also corroborated that if I could do more, I would.

I can empathize with the predicament Sina's family is in. There have been other precedents where a simple connection to people abroad or efforts by other "undesirables" on their behalf and support has been used against the accused. Accordingly, could the petition or any other fallout from future actions by us be used against Sina? Nobody can say for certain, but it is definitely possible.

So, why not scarp it and sit back, hoping for the best. Why not cross our fingers and leave it up to the judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran to do the right thing for Sina and others before him as well as the ones coming after him. The answer rests with that last part. Without a doubt there will be others. Sina isn't the first to be arrested for expressing his opinion in Iran, and it certainly won't be the last.

This is however part of a new offensive with new targets. It is not the political activists or human rights advocates that are being targeted this time. It's not even the so called "reformers" or those mildly critical of regime's tactics or approach. This time it is the youth and the ones who have found new ways of expressing their dissatisfaction with the ruling class that are the new enemy. In particular, freedom of expression via the internet is now being targeted.

I have no doubt that if they could get their hands on him, Hossein Derakhshan (better known as Hoder to the web log community) would have been the prime target. But he is safely away in Canada. But it's a different story inside Iran itself. They went after the highest profile "internet personality" of the new generation and Sina was it.

The content of his web log or his writing had very little to do with anything. His last few posts before being summoned were (in order) about Iranian newscaster's inability to pronounce names properly, Michael Jordan's retirement, problems with Sina's son, and a reprint of an already published statement by Kambiz Kaheh, a film critic arrested on bogus charges for distributing illegal videos. Hardly risky material.

What Sina represents to them, however, is far bigger. He is the symbol of all the young, internet and technology savvy generation this regime has failed to suppress. The latest battleground is cyberspace and thousands of Persian web logs, from the progressive and politically charged ones to teenager's sexual experimentations or mundane adolescent babblings.

In this new confrontation there will be more sacrifices inflicted by the other side. As always, we have a choice; distress and holler as loud as we can or remain unruffled. By choosing the latter, would they even think twice before delivering the next blow? I doubt it. By raising our voice and causing as much uproar as we can manage, they may just be forced to do that.

At the end of the day this struggle is not about individuals. This is about the right to free speech and in this battle, remaining quiet equals defeat.

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By Pedram Moallemian
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