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Being the third largest blogging nation in the world after US and China, bloggers in Iran have in so many ways aroused curiosity. They have also commanded admiration for their drive for freedom of expression in an environment that is regarded as hostile to bloggers.
Iranian bloggers have been thrown in jail for years and some unfortunately never return. Iranian bloggers still persist – in spite of the threats and hostility – in airing their views, passion and love for their country, culture and language. According to Wikipedia “with more than 700 000 Persian blogs, mostly based in Iran, the Persian language is ranked as the second-most-popular language in the entire blogosphere”.
Tehran Post is a one of the 700 000 Persian blogs that is “cautiously speaking from inside Iran” about life, freedom and politics. The blog is written by someone only known as ‘Persia’. The blog was established in 2002 and the real identity of the blogger is still unknown.
A conversation with the creator of the blog yielded interesting points on blogging, social media and freedom of expression in Iran.
According the elusive Persia, Tehran Post was created in “an effort to change the somewhat simplistic mindset, particularly among western audience, about Iran”.
Most westerners think “of it [Iran] as just an Arab country, uncivilised and underdeveloped. At first, I tried to write about daily life and social issues, just to let the other people know we Iranians have the same life and are not people from Mars, though I’ve been always obsessed with politics and have shifted towards politics,” says Persia.
Iran is a country with a vibrant youth and according to Persia, the restrictions in the “real” public sphere is what draws the Iranian youth towards social media.
“They can express their views on religion, politics, social issues freely. What they write about covers a broad range topics. However, politics is at the top of the list, particularly after the controversial 2009 presidential election that strongly polarized the society and consequently the Iranian blogosphere.”
Literature and minimalist writing seems to be the recent vogue in the Iranian blogosphere. A pattern noticeable on Tehran Post.
Anonymity seems a necessary factor when blogging in Iran. Hossein Derakhshan, known as the Godfather of Iranian Weblogs, was sentenced to 19 years in jail. Persia sees Derakhshan’s contributions to Iranian blogging especially the promotion blogging among Iranians as invaluable.
“Derakshan went from a nationalist, reformist and radical critic of the Islamic Republic to an avid supporter of the regime and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This made him a subject of attack by many well-known first-generation bloggers. He returned to Iran, perhaps thinking the country was safe for him after his ideological u-turn, but was arrested and sentenced on charges of espionage and blasphemy. Many know him as an honest and brave yet naïve blogger,” added Persia.
The 2009 election was an interesting time for social media in Iran. A period the anonymous blogger thinks lacked censorship. “The days of presidential election are days of freedom for a couple of months and Iran becomes as democratic as possible in a Middle Eastern context. Facebook was initially blocked after Musavi supporters used it as their main web campaign tool. It was later unblocked after Ahmadinejad was questioned about it in an international press conference amid the election. Predictably, it has been re-blocked since the day of election.”
The future of blogging in Iran all hinges the amount of “openness in Iran’s political stage” says Persia.
With social media currently playing such a huge role in bringing down oppressive regimes it remains to be seen whether these young Iranians will use this weapon to demand a country that is free and tolerant.