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Breaking the Silence: Iranians Find a Voice on the Internet

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Panel Summary

Iran has one of the most repressive internet environments in the world, with extensive blocking of websites and strict legal regulation. Despite this, Iran has had explosive growth in Internet usage, with about 7.2 million users, and 400,000 Persian-language blogs. Activists are increasingly using the Internet to promote change in Iran, despite risks and restrictions. This panel will examine the technical and legal restrictions on Internet in Iran and discusses how advocates and activists overcome these restrictions.

Detailed Description

In spring 2000, Iranâ€™s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ushered in a major crackdown on independent newspapers and magazines which had flourished after the election of reformist President Mohmmad Khatami. The few reformist publications that remained when President Ahmadinejad took office have since been shuttered by the government. Free expression and the exchange of ideas which cannot occur in the Iranian press have moved to the internet. Fresh and liberating, albeit increasingly restricted inside Iran, the internet has emerged as the borderless medium for public dialogue on democratic reform. Today, the internet is the most trusted source of information for young Iranians. Over 400,000 active Persian-language blogs and myriad news and information websites promote individual expression, analysis, and exposure to issues ignored by traditional news sources.

This panel will explore the ways in which the Iranian government has sought to limit free expression and information exchange on the internet â€“ including significant legal and technical restrictions â€“ as well as its efforts to promote the use of the Internet by conservatives, recognizing the Internetâ€™s role as a marketplace of ideas.

The panel will also examine the specific challenges of internet-based activists and internet users in Iran how they have overcome these challenges. Finally, the panelists will discuss the ways in which Gozaar, a bilingual website focused on democracy and human rights in Iran, has been able to circumvent the blockade and maintain steady readership inside the country, despite being officially blocked only a few months after the site was launched. The panelists will also take questions from the audience.


Majid Mohammadi is a professor of Near Eastern studies at Binghamton University

Arash Abadpour is a Ph.D. student in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, University of Manitoba, and an Iranian blogger.

Rob Faris is research director at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.

Eliza Bonner manages the websites for Freedom House, including the Persian-language site Gozaar.