Friday, May 30, 2003

Blogs Opening Iranian Society?

Wired News -- Derakhshan, a 28-year-old Iranian expatriate now living in Toronto, Canada, ported some basic blogging tools from ASCII to Unicode, enabling Iranians to blog in their own language.

Derakhshan's efforts are just one example of how Iranians are using the latest technology to modernize their society and adopt Western ways without giving up their heritage. There are now roughly 12,000 Farsi blogs created by Iranians, Derakhshan said, with more coming online every day.

"Until there is a free press in Iran again, weblogs will flourish. In the last few years about 90 (pro-democracy) newspapers in Iran have been shut down. So people have turned to the Internet to get news," Derakhshan said Friday during his presentation at BlogTalk, a two-day conference on weblogs at the Danube University Krems Center for New Media in Vienna.

About 1 million Iranians have access to the Internet, which is largely uncensored but is monitored by the government.

"There have been great social changes in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution," Derakhshan said. "There are many popular reformists, but (they are) not particularly powerful. The real leaders are still hard-line."

The more moderate faction of the government is more tech-savvy but turns a blind eye to personal Iranian blogs, some of which contain soft-core pornography or political criticism, according to Derakhshan.

But that tolerance may be coming to an end. On April 19, journalist Sina Motallebi was arrested in Tehran. His crime: blogging.

Motallebi is now awaiting trial. According to the Islamic news agency, he has been charged with "undermining national security through cultural activities" for the content of his blog, as well as his other writings and interviews he gave to foreign media outlets. Motallebi wrote for Iran's reformist newspaper Hayat-e-No until it was closed by the government in January.

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