Reading Twitter in Tehran:

Iranian Women Emerging through Technology

 

I.          INTRODUCTION..........................................................................................…………….1

II.        THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN (IRI).................................................…………….4

                        A.  POLITICAL STRUCTURE OF IRI.......................................................……………...4

                        B.  OPPRESSION OF IRANIAN WOMEN................................................……………...7

                        C.  SUPPRESSION OF SPEECH IN THE IRANIAN MEDIA..................………………9

III.          THE INTERNET IN IRAN...........................................................................………….....13

                        A.  ADOPTION OF THE INTERNET IN IRAN........................................……………..13

                        B.  IRI PULLS THE PLUG ON THE INTERNET......................................…………….17

                        C.  EMERGENCE OF PEER-TO-PEER SOCIAL NETWORKING..........…………….23

IV.       THE TWITTER REVOLUTION...................................................................……………28

                        A.  EVENTS OF JUNE 2009.......................................................................…………….28

                        B.  TWITTER REVOLUTION’S EFFECT ON IRANIAN WOMEN.........……………31

                        C.  PEER-TO-PEER AS DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD................................…………….35

V.        CONCLUSION........................................................................................................……………40

 

I.  INTRODUCTION

            Here and now in that other world that cropped up so many times in our discussions, I sit and reimagine myself and my students, my girls as I came to call them, reading Lolita in a deceptively sunny room in Tehran.  But to steal the words from Humbert, the poet/criminal of Lolita, I need you, the reader, to imagine us, for we won’t really exist if you don’t.  Against the tyranny of time and politics, imagine us the way we sometimes didn’t dare to imagine ourselves: in our most private and secret moments, in the most extraordinarily ordinary instances of life, listening to music, falling in love, walking down the shady streets or reading Lolita in Tehran.  And then imagine us again with all this confiscated, driven underground, taken away from us. [1]

 

Reading, the central activity in Azar Nafisi’s memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, empowered the Iranian women featured in the book by allowing them to participate in the international dialogue of literature.  By reading Western literature banned by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the women in the book were able to do in private what they were not able to do in public—that is, share their experiences as women in Iran with other Iranian women through the discussion of literary characters in novels such as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.  The women in Reading Lolita in Tehran had to share these experiences in private because, when the book was written in 1995, Iranian women had no public forum for such discussions and therefore had no way of sharing their experiences with other women in Iran or abroad.  The emerging popularity of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, irrevocably changed the way Iranian women communicated with each other.  First through websites, then through blogs, and then through SMS text messaging and “tweets” on the social networking website, Twitter, previously silent and marginalized contingents of Iranian society—chief among them, women—began making themselves heard, despite the Iranian government’s efforts to suppress their speech at home and abroad.  Iran, which has experienced one revolution after another for most of its modern history, underwent yet another revolution—the so-called “Twitter Revolution”—which, because of the pervasive changes it promises to bring now and in the future, has the potential to be the defining revolutionary moment in Iran’s history.  The Twitter Revolution, unlike prior revolutions in Iran’s modern history, cannot be characterized as one regime eclipsing another, but rather as the speech, and therefore the power, of marginalized contingents of the Iranian populace eclipsing the ability of the Iranian government to silence its populace, including its women, into submission. 

            The Twitter Revolution can be defined as a short time period in June 2009, when, following the re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, individual Iranians used simple technology such as SMS text messaging and Twitter to communicate to the international community about Iranian activists’ protests and demonstrations and the Iranian government’s efforts to (at times, violently) dismantle the activists and silence their message.  This article is concerned with the Twitter Revolution’s effect on Iranian politics and human rights in the past and the future, with particular attention given to the impact that the Twitter Revolution had and will continue to have on the rights of women and the political power of Iran’s female population.

            Part II of this article provides a political and historical backdrop for the Twitter Revolution.  The unique political structure of the Iranian government, in which the religious supervisory leaders are the most powerful, has shaped, through Islamic law (shari’a), the rights of women throughout Iran’s modern history and has greatly effected the way that women communicate, look, and act in public.  Women’s rights under shari’a are greatly unequal to men’s, and have positioned women for decades as politically and legally inferior to men.  Furthermore, many of the same tenants of shari’a that have led to the suppression of women vis-ą-vis their male counterparts have also been used by the religious supervisory bodies of the government to censor ideas in Iranian media in order to maintain the status quo.  Part III discusses the introduction of the Internet to Iran, and how new technologies have dramatically enabled the ability of Iranian citizens to communicate with each other and challenge the status quo.  While new technological developments have been generally empowering for Iranians, these same developments have also invited an aggressive campaign of censorship led by the Iranian government, which itself has been challenged by the emergence of peer-to-peer online social networks.  Part IV discusses the events of the Twitter Revolution of June 2009 and how, even despite their inherent drawbacks, the peer-to-peer technologies used during this revolution are capable of empowering women by allowing women to more effectively communicate with one another.  The article concludes that the peer-to-peer communication technologies used so effectively during the Twitter Revolution are unique and powerful tools that Iranian women can use to elevate their social status and gain equal rights with men.

 

II.  THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN

 

A.  POLITICAL STRUCTURE OF IRI

 

            The Islamic Republic of Iran, the regime currently in place in Iran as of this writing, assumed power by way of revolution in 1979. [2]  In January of 1978, demonstrations began against Iran’s monarchy under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. [3]  Between August and December of 1978, demonstrations and strikes escalated to a point where revolution seemed imminent. [4]  In January of 1979, the Shah went into exile, and on February 1, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran. [5]  On February 11, 1979, shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini’s return, the Shah’s monarchy was toppled. [6]  On April 1, 1979, the country voted to become the Islamic Republic of Iran (hereinafter “IRI”), and a theocratic constitution was ratified naming Ayatollah Khomeini the nation’s “Supreme Leader.” [7]

            Following the revolution of 1979, only the structure of the IRI, whose different branches, with their own, often opposing agendas, has prevented the government from becoming the type of totalitarian regime that was created by Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini during World War II.  In contrast to Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, the IRI has no political parties and is instead fractured into three factions unified only by their relationship with each other, with each faction having different political ideas. [8]  The first faction derives their legitimacy from shari’a, and is composed of religious supervisory bodies such as the “Council of the Guardian [Majles-e Khobregan], the Expediency Council [Majma’-e Tashkhis-e Maslahat-e Nezam], and the Assembly of Experts [Shora-ye Maslahat-e Nezam].” [9]  This faction is joined by a secular faction, whose Parliament, President and judiciary are legitimized by Iran’s citizens. [10]  Finally, the religious and secular factions work in tandem with semi-governmental religious foundations called bonyads. [11]  The most powerful actor in Iran’s “Government of the Jurist” structure is the “Supreme Leader,” whom, as of this writing, is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [12]  The Supreme Leader is not elected but can overrule bills passed by the elected legislature. [13]  The Supreme Leader’s power to do so, however, is subject to approval of the religious supervisory bodies, which, together with the Supreme Leader, oversee the secular faction comprised of the legislature, presidency, and judiciary. [14]  The complex structure of the IRI has often pitted factions against one another, resulting in a government that is constantly in a delicate state of flux.  However, the power of the religious supervisory faction has proved dominant.  Since 2000, Iran’s hard-line, Islamist “conservatives” have defeated reformists by exploiting the unique structure of the IRI to achieve their political objectives.  Iranian conservatives have been successful in repressing reformists through silencing the reformist press, using political leaders from the religious faction to veto legislation and prevent reformist political candidates from running for office, and even going to the extreme of imprisoning, torturing and killing reformist activists. [15]  Among reformists, women have been particularly repressed by Iran’s conservatives. [16] 

 

 

 

B.  OPPRESSION OF IRANIAN WOMEN

 

            Women played a critical role in the Iranian Revolution against the Shah. [17]  Women were motivated to support the Iranian Revolution because they were being deprived economically, were suffering political oppression, and were increasingly identifying with Islam. [18]  During the Iranian Revolution, supporters donned the traditional veil in a show of opposition to the Shah and to the West. [19]  Soon after the current regime took power in 1979, shari’a became the primary source of law. [20]  This had the effect of eradicating the gender equality principles that the Shah had enacted during his rule and making mandatory the veiling of women. [21]   The women who had supported the new regime by donning the veil did not anticipate wearing the veil after the new regime came to power and were shocked when hejab (Islamic modest dress) was strictly enforced. [22]  Hejab was temporarily rescinded, but in 1981, veiling once again became compulsory and enforcement was harsh. [23]  Some women who defied hejab by wearing lipstick in public had their lipstick removed with a razor blade.[24]

            Women’s rights under shari’a differ greatly from those of men, resulting in discrimination of women under shari’a. [25]  During the first ten years of the Iranian Revolution, female singers were banned and polygamy and temporary marriage was allowed. [26]  Even now, under shari’a, a woman, unlike a man, does not have the right to file for divorce or claim custody of her child or children; a man’s testimony in court is weighed more heavily than a woman’s; in wrongful death and negligence cases, a woman is eligible to receive only half the punitive damages that a man would receive. [27]  Additionally, the age of legal responsibility is fifteen years old for males while just nine years old for females, effectively meaning that nine-year-old girls can be tried as adults and sentenced to death. [28]  In adultery cases, both partners are eligible to be stoned to death, but a woman is stoned while buried to her neck while a man’s arms remain free. [29] 

            Under the Iranian Civil Code, women’s rights are also unequal to men’s.  Under the Code, marriage, as long as it is authorized by a natural guardian, can occur as early as nine years old, and as the husband’s wife, the husband may legally have sex with the child. [30]  Even if the natural guardian does not consent to the marriage, a civil court has the ability to grant permission for the girl to marry if the natural guardian fails to provide a valid reason for refusing to consent. [31]  Though the minimum working age in Iran is fifteen, a girl as young as nine, if married, can circumvent labor laws by working within her husband’s household. [32]  Women in Iran are also cannot be judges; a woman must ask for written permission from her husband before obtaining a passport; and a woman must ask permission from her husband or another male relative in order to work, and that husband or male relative has the ability to limit the type of work she can do. [33]  Whether under shari’a or secular law, Islamist politics, as one commentator has noted, has “produced an extremely disadvantaged position for women.  It ha[s] reinforced male domination, compromised women’s autonomy, and created a set of gender relations characterized by profound inequality.” [34]

 

C.   SUPPRESSION OF SPEECH IN THE IRANIAN MEDIA

 

            The IRI has also used principles of shari’a, codified in its laws, to suppress the speech of its citizens, thereby stifling criticism of the way women are treated in Iran.  It is stated in the Preamble to Iran’s constitution, passed in April 1979, [35] that media must “‘strictly refrain’ from the ‘diffusion and propagation of destructive and anti-Islamic practices.’” [36]  Article 24 states that  “Publications and the press have freedom of expression except when it is detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.  The details of this exception will be specified by law.” [37]  Article 4 of the constitution requires that all laws be “based on Islamic criteria,” [38] which, in practice, requires Iran’s constitution and laws to be squared with shari’a.  Because Iran’s laws cast a broad mandate against any criticism of Islamic law or the state of Iran, the government’s ability to regulate the speech of Iranian citizens pursuant to its constitution and laws is practically unfettered.   

            In August 1979, the IRI closed dozens of non-Islamist newspapers after a new law was passed banning “counter-revolutionary policies and acts.” [39]   The Press Law of 1986 was later enacted, which has served as the primary legal instrument for restricting free speech in the Iranian press.   The Press Law echoes the spirit of the Iranian constitution, prohibiting the press from “‘promoting subjects that might damage the foundation of the Islamic Republic...offending the Leader of the Revolution…or quoting articles from the deviant press, parties or groups that oppose Islam (inside and outside the country) in such a manner as to propagate such ideas...or encouraging and instigating individuals and groups to act against the security, dignity, and interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran.’” [40]  The Press Supervisory Board of the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance is charged with identifying violations of the Press Law, banning publications that violate the Press Law, and referring violators of the Press Law to the Press Court and the Revolutionary Court when violations are made. [41]  Iran’s Penal Code “provides for mandatory imprisonment terms for many of the violations of the Press Law, including insult of State or religious officials, engaging in propaganda activities, or publishing of libel, false information or satirical material.” [42]

            Following the election of reformist President Mohammed Khatami in 1997, a burgeoning independent press enjoyed an ability to publish critical material and investigative journalism. [43]  This ability was short-lived, however, as Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei fought back by shuttering over one hundred newspapers and imprisoning reporters and editors.  Several of the newspapers that were closed by the IRI were owned by women and targeted a female audience.  In closing these newspapers, women in Iran were kept from communicating with one another through them.  In April 2000, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei proclaimed that the reformist press were “‘bases of the enemy.’” [44]  In an amendment to the Press Law in April of 2000, prescriptive mandates were added to the restrictions in the Press Law of 1986.  The 2000 amendment listed a set of objectives to be followed by the press, including “‘propagat[ing] genuine Islamic culture and sound ethical principles,’” [45] providing only “constructive criticism,” and publishing content devoid of “insult, humiliation, and detrimental effects.” [46]  Additionally restrictions on the freedom of the press were also added in Article 6, [47] which, because these are so vague, grant the IRI’s bureaus even broader power to regulate speech that the IRI finds threatening.  [48] 

            On August 8, 2002, Journalist’s Day in Iran, the IRI Press Court shut down a newspaper called Ruz-e Now simply because it had a name similar to a reformist paper that had been banned the month prior. [49]  A week later, the IRI closed a Tehran daily called Ayinjeh-e Jonub for allegedly “publishing articles contrary to the law and spreading propaganda against the Islamic revolution.” [50]  Between April 2000 and the closing of the Ayinneh-e Jonub in August 2002, the IRI closed over sixty publications and dozens of liberal activists were jailed. [51]  In 2007, Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran 166 out of 169 countries in the World Press Freedom Index.  Iran ranked lower than Cuba and Burma and only ranked higher than Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea. [52]

 

 

 

III.  THE INTERNET IN IRAN

 

A.  ADOPTION OF THE INTERNET IN IRAN

 

            Technical advances such as the Internet, email, and cell phones—brought to Iran, by way of globalization—forever changed the nature of publication in Iran and the dissent against the government voiced therein.  In 2008, Iran was estimated to have a population of roughly 70 million people, nearly 56% of whom were under the age of 25. [53]  Of these approximately 70 million people, 23 million are Internet users. [54]   The number of Internet users in Iran is especially remarkable considering that the number of Internet users in the country has climbed 48% annually, from under one million users in 2000 to 32 million just eight years later. [55]  Cell phone use is also pervasive, with Iranians sending 80 million text messages per day. [56]  The IRI-authored Fourth Five-Year Economic Development Plan announces goals of a 50% penetration rate for cell phones and 30 million Internet users by 2010. [57] 

            In 1993, Iran became the second country in the Middle East to connect to the Internet. [58]  Since then, the IRI has aggressively developed its telecommunications infrastructure.  The infrastructure especially expanded during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency (1997 to 2005), when an infusion of government funds combined with the importation of inexpensive computers from East Asia to enlarge Iran’s network infrastructure. [59]  The expansion of Iran’s network infrastructure continued increasing after the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when from 2005 to 2007, Iran doubled the size of its fiber-optic networks. [60]

            Iran’s young population has taken advantage of its country’s vast network infrastructure to form a prolific self-publishing culture. [61]  Iran has a “dynamic young population that mostly despises its leaders, craves contact with the outside world, and yearns for nothing more culturally clashing than accountable government and the rule of law.” [62]  The arrival of the Internet in Iran both created a forum for Iran’s young population to criticize a government it despised and enabled Iran’s youth to connect with the outside world. [63]  Not only is Iran’s population young, it is also very literate.  As of 2005, literacy rates among young Iranian men and women exceeded ninety percent, even in rural areas. [64]  For Iran’s young and literate population who had easy and affordable access to the Internet, the Internet promised to make anyone an author.  Iranians, thirsting for communication with each other and the outside world, were soon developing websites in Iranian cyberspace, [65] many of which replaced newspapers closed by the government for containing journalism critical of the government. [66]  A journalist writing for one such website was quoted as saying, “‘Technology always wins, and therefore the closure of reformist newspapers is useless when there is the internet.’” [67] 

            Not long after the widespread publication of websites came a more nimble publication format: the blog.  Bijan Sfsari, a former editor and publisher of several shuttered pro-democracy newspapers writes that, “At a time when our society is deprived of its rightful free means of communication…and our newspapers are being closed down one by one—with writers and journalists crowding the corners of our jails...the only realm that can safeguard and shoulder the responsibility of free speech is the blogosphere.” [68]   One of the very first blogs in Persian was created in September 2001 by an Iranian named Hossein Derakshan. [69]  In 2005, there were 75,000 Persian blogs, and Persian had become the third most popular language used in the blogosphere, preceded only by English and Chinese. [70]  Blogging was so pervasively adopted as a communication format in Iran that Iranian bloggers account for a greater percentage of the Persian-language “blogosphere” than any other Persian-speaking country. [71]  In fact, Iran has the ninth largest blogging population in the world. [72] 

            Anti-government blogs, women’s rights blogs, and blogs embracing Western popular culture sprouted in abundance in the Iranian blogosphere.  Nasrin Alavi, author of We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs, writes that “Blogging in Iran has grown so fast because it meets the needs no longer met by the print media...It provides a safe space in which people may write freely on a wide variety of topics, from the most serious and urgent to the most frivolous.” [73]  In April 2008, John Kelly and Bruce Etling of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society published a case study called Mapping Iran’s Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere, in which the two authors used sophisticated mathematical models to draw a visual map of Iran’s Persian blogosphere. [74]  The study found that most blogs fell into four, sometimes overlapping categories, or, “poles”: Secular/reformist; Conservative/religious; Persian Poetry and Literature; and Mixed networks. [75]  The majority of bloggers in each pole were men, but of the four poles, women were more represented in the Secular/reformist pole than in any other pole. [76]  The Secular/reformist pole “features a large proportion of women and expatriates.  Common topics include women’s rights and political prisoners.  Many of these blogs discuss cultural issues, including cinema, journalism, books, and satire.” [77]  In addition to women’s rights, public affairs are also widely discussed within the Secular/reformist pole, with attention given to international news, the economy, and political leaders. [78] 

 

B.  IRI PULLS THE PLUG ON THE INTERNET

 

            As websites and blogs became widely adopted in Iran after the turn of the century, the IRI began realizing the full extent of the threat these new communication tools could pose to the legitimacy of the government and shari’a.  In 2004, the head of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, declared the Internet a “Trojan horse carrying enemy soldiers in its belly,” which was followed by articles in state-run newspapers calling the Iranian blogosphere a “network led by the CIA conspiring to overthrow the regime.” [79] 

            The Press Law of 1986, which had previously only regulated the content of print publications, was amended in 2000 and again in 2009 to apply to content published online. [80]  The 2009 amendment to the Press Law states that “The rules stated in this Press Law apply to domestic news sites and domestic websites and set out their rights, responsibilities, legal protection, crimes, punishments, judicial authority and procedure for hearings.” [81]  Extending the Press Law to online publications has had the effect of subjecting website authors and bloggers to regulation by the Press Supervisory Board of the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, which has the authority to revoke publishing licenses (discussed below), ban publications, and refer publishers to the IRI’s Press Court. [82]

            The IRI launched an aggressive filtering campaign to thwart new developments in Internet communication tools.  The IRI, which, as of 2006, had filtered more websites than any other country besides China, [83] implemented complex filters to restrict the types of information both leaving and entering the country, made possible by the IRI’s requirement that all internet service providers (ISPs) connect through a state-controlled access point. [84]  In December of 2001, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution demanded that Iranian ISPs install filtering systems to filter Internet content passing through the ISPs’ networks. [85]  IRI bureaucrats from the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Sites, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security and the Tehran Prosecutor General were charged with defining objectionable content to be blocked by the filters. [86]  Domestically produced software is used by IRI bureaus to locate the objectionable content on the Internet. [87]  Once the objectionable content is located, two other state agencies, the Information Technology Company of Iran and the Communication Infrastructure Company, implement the filtering decisions made by the IRI bureaucrats and ensure that the decisions are uniformly carried out across the country. [88]  Many of the websites or blogs that are targeted by the IRI fall into the Secular/reformist pole identified by the Berkman Center study discussed above. [89]  When many Iranian Internet users attempt to access a search engine or information database, a page reading “The requested page is forbidden” is instead displayed. [90]  Even if a user is able to access a search engine, he or she will be unable to use the term “women” in his or her search.  The IRI has blocked searches for “women” because such a search may yield immoral content. [91]  Banning “women” as a search term, however, has had the collateral effect of blocking websites for many women’s organizations and social Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs). [92]  Other topics the Supreme National Security Council has banned from being discussed in the media are the country’s economics troubles, international sanctions attached to Iran’s nuclear program, social taboos, and unrest among Iran’s ethnic minorities. [93] 

            The IRI has required blog and website operators to be registered.  In January of 2007, the IRI required all websites and blogs in Iran to register with the IRI by March of the same year. [94]  Registrars of websites and blogs were required to provide personal information, including “their name, address, telephone number, intended audience, approximate number of readers and other detailed information.” [95]  A committee of government officials was charged with approving the content of Iranian websites and blogs, and this committee was given the authority to filter or block websites or blogs that it determined were illegal. [96]  Content that the committee deems illegal range from “criticism of religious figures to sexual matters as well as content considered offensive to the Ayatollah Khomeini (the founder of the Islamic Republic), Ayatollah Khamenei, (Iran’s Supreme Leader), or that is deemed slanderous of Islamic laws.” [97]  If the website or blog operator refuses to register, he or she faces penalties ranging from his or her website being shut down to being sent to prison or even sentenced to death. [98]  Iranian blogger, Hanif Mazruie, who, in 2004, was arrested and jailed in solitary confinement for ninety days for his online journalism activities, has said that the 2007 law targets “political blogs and websites...Also NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and human rights organisations which use the Internet as their sole means of communication...” [99]

            The IRI has taken aggressive measures to intimidate online dissidents into self-censorship.  In April 2003, Iran became the first country in the world to imprison a blogger. [100]  Though many male bloggers and journalists have since been imprisoned for espousing competing political views online, women bloggers and journalists have also been imprisoned for publishing material calling for equal rights with men.  In 2004, Mahboubeh Abbas-Gholizadeh, editor of the women’s rights journal Farzaneh, was among several other journalists and bloggers who, accused of endorsing democracy and behaving immorally, were held in state custody, where they maintained that they were “mistreated, tortured, and violently interrogated during their detention.” [101]  In recent years, women’s rights websites have become a primary target of the IRI’s censorship and filtering campaign, in addition to websites advocating political reform and websites hosting pornography. [102]  In 2007, five Iranian women who had collected over a million signatures for a petition calling for equal rights between men and women were charged with and convicted of “endangering national security” and were thereafter sentenced to prison. [103]  Later in the year, in December 2007, two “cyber-feminists” were imprisoned for over a month in the notorious Evin prison after writing articles calling for equal rights between men and women. [104]  One such journalist was Jila Banijaghoob who, after being released from Evin, spoke of being blindfolded and put in a filthy cell, awakened at night to be interrogated, and spending over a week in a detention center where the Iranian secret services can secretly hold political prisoners in solitary confinement and torture them without consequence. [105]  In September 2008, cyber-feminists Parvin Ardalan, Jelveh Javaheri, Maryam Hosseinkhah, and Nahid Keshavarz were sentenced to prison for six months for writing articles about women’s rights for online newspapers. [106]  The sentences of these women, one reporter said, “were intended to send a strong warning to force other female activists into self-censorship.” [107] 

            The IRI has used its control over the country’s ISPs to restrict broadband speeds of individual households.  In October 2006, less than a month after the IRI shut down Shargh, Iran’s leading reformist newspaper, Iran’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MICT) ordered the country’s ISPs to restrict bandwidth to 128 kilobits per second for individual households, making it more difficult to download the foreign media which the IRI blamed for undermining Islamic culture; making it more difficult for opposition groups to organize through material uploaded to the internet; [108] and making Iran the first and only country to institute a cap on household internet speeds. [109]  Mohammad Soleimani, Minister of Information and Communications, justified the cap on broadband speeds by declaring that “slower speeds are adequate and that there is no demand for higher speeds.” [110]  Despite opposition from members of the IRI parliament, [111] the bandwidth restriction has remained intact. [112]

             

C. EMERGENCE OF PEER-TO-PEER SOCIAL NETWORKING

 

            The Iranian government’s efforts to filter and censor Internet content on websites and blogs ironically had a profoundly negative effect on the government’s ability to control communications when new, more flexible “peer-to-peer” (hereinafter P2P, as it is popularly abbreviated) technologies would emerge only a short time following the rise in popularity of blogs in Iran.  Iranian blogger Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, whom, like fellow blogger Hanif Mazruie, was also jailed for his online journalism activities, has commented that “The [Iranian] government wants to control the virtual atmosphere by all means.  However, it is impossible to control the Internet for a long time.  Technology and the passionate people who want to increase their awareness and knowledge will find a way to move forward and the government is just wasting its time and money.” [113]  For the Iranian people, that “way to move forward” was P2P communication technologies.

            P2P technologies are not new and in fact date back to the advent of the Internet, when one computer was used to communicate to another through what was essentially a direct line of communication.  In order to accommodate connections between an expanding user base, the Internet later evolved from a P2P structure to a “hub-and-spoke,” server-to-node model.  Diagram 1 (see Appendix) illustrates the configuration of a hub-and-spoke model, server-to-node model.  Diagram 1 shows how, in a server-and-node network, information originates from a single user, is sent to a server, and is then redirected from the server to either another server or a single user.  The server acts as a relay switch coordinating data traffic across the Internet’s network of servers and nodes.  Throughout most of the Internet’s history, the hub-and-spoke, server-to-node model has been the predominate means of transmitting data over the Internet.  In fact, the server-to-node model enabled hosting services to cheaply and easily host the websites and blogs that became so popular in Iran in the late 1990s and the early twenty-first century.

In the late 1990s, digital file sharing services transformed the way that media was shared and consumed over the Internet.  Instead of using a server-and-node model, which involved a server distributing media files to a consumer’s node, digital file sharing services, largely as a result of attempts to circumvent legal restrictions, moved to a P2P model that is still widely used among digital file sharing services today.  Diagram 2 (see Appendix) illustrates the configuration of a P2P network.  Diagram 2 shows how, in a P2P network, individual users, or, nodes, communicate directly to one another without the transmitted information passing through an intervening server.   The development and widespread use of P2P file sharing services was a crucially important stage in the evolution of communication and information sharing across the Internet.  A central server, which could be controlled and manipulated by the government of the jurisdiction in which the server was located, [114] was removed from the line of communication between nodes, effectively decentralizing and democratizing information-sharing among nodes.  Eventually, the P2P technologies that enabled Internet users to use their nodes to share music and movies with one another were adopted in the blogosphere and then later most effectively employed in the burgeoning social networking communities that became popular in 2005.

Though social networking giants like Facebook and Myspace dominated the social networking landscape by using a hub-and-spoke, server-to-node communication network, a social networking service named Twitter broke away from this model to form a P2P-based communication network.  Twitter is simpler than Facebook and Myspace, and this simplicity and ease-of-use was what made it such an effective tool during the June 2009 Twitter Revolution.  Unlike Facebook and Myspace, Twitter users only communicate through text.  A Twitter user communicates with other Twitter users through “tweets,” which are short messages limited to one hundred forty characters.  A user is not only able to publish tweets, but is also able to receive tweets from other users by telling Twitter which users’ tweets it would like to “subscribe” to, or, follow.  Users use the tweets to exchange information with other users on various topics including news, celebrity gossip, publications, political matters, and any other topic that might be of interest to the user.  No publisher or arbiter of any kind intervenes in the transmission of the content, essentially allowing any user to instantaneously communicate to readers any information the user chooses.  The service’s usefulness as a communication tool derives from its simplicity and its ease-of-use, which is made even simpler and easier by being able to send tweets to other users via cell phone SMS text message.  With the arrival of Twitter, and its incorporation of SMS text messaging into its service, a young woman in Tehran could instantaneously publish a short message sent by her cell phone to millions of Internet users across the world.

            The effects that P2P social networks would have on Iranian society would be profound.  P2P social networks have “created a new model of media and public communication that is inherently more democratic, inclusive, and interactive than old methods of mass media production and control.  While the old media production model was problematic even for liberal democracies, since the means of production and distribution were easily captured by capital and/or state authority, it was especially powerful in the hands of authoritarian regimes, which easily controlled media outlets and points of production.” [115]  The P2P social network model undermines the state’s authority to control the flow of information because P2P architecture allows “multi-directional information flows, and reduces the costs of becoming a speaker.  Individuals can become active creators and producers of politically relevant information and they can participate easily.” [116]  The ease of participation, the multi-directional flow of information, and the low cost of admission to P2P networks are critical keys to the success of these networks in Iran. 

            Iranians have to work within the strictures imposed by the government: filtering, [117] reduction of Internet bandwidth, [118] and the threat of arrest and imprisonment. [119]  Despite these barriers, information is able to flow freely over P2P networks because the IRI’s filtering and blocking is targeted towards hub-and-spoke “publications” like websites, online newspapers and blogs.  The reduction of Internet bandwidth has had little if any effect on P2P communications because short text messages and small videos easily pass through state filters and travel over the narrow channels of bandwidth allowed by the government.  The threat of arrest and imprisonment is not as present on P2P networks because 1) the individual communications can be made in private and are difficult for the government to intercept because, in total, they are so numerous and 2) a P2P user can choose to communicate to another P2P user anonymously, which traditional hub-and-spoke formats for the most part do not allow.  Lastly, the barrier is low for publication.  Anyone can publish his or her message to anyone else, cheaply (only a computer and Internet connection is required), quickly (modern Internet and SMS networks transmit information almost instantaneously), and easily (a Twitter user could learn how to send a tweet in a matter of minutes).  This has had the effect in Iran of establishing a marketplace of ideas that is open to any member of society, whether that individual chooses to participate in that marketplace of ideas or not. [120]  This would have a profound effect on Iranian women, who have, under the current regime, been largely banned from participating in the Iranian marketplace of ideas.  Though P2P networks had the effect of democratizing the Internet for everyone in Iran, Iranian women, as would be seen in the Twitter Revolution, would embrace the technology most and would once again be leaders in Iran’s latest revolution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IV.  THE TWITTER REVOLUTION

 

A.  EVENTS OF JUNE 2009

 

            The Twitter Revolution of June 2009 will have enormous historical significance in Iran.  For the first time in the country’s history, underrepresented segments of society—especially woman—were communicating to a global audience about the oppression of their freedoms under the rule of the IRI.  Leading up to the Twitter Revolution, political opposition groups had “adopted new online and mobile phone-based organizing tactics, using Facebook, Twitter, Web sites, email, cell phones and SMS and the full suite of Web 2.0 tools as mechanisms for organizing.” [121]   Following the reelection of President Ahmadinejad in June 2009, political opposition groups used this technology to organize large-scale protests and demonstrations in the Iranian capital city of Tehran.  During the demonstrations, in large part because of the Iranian government’s efforts to silence or at least prevent dissenting voices from being heard by the outside world, much of the Internet traffic was disabled or confined to communications that did not require much bandwidth.  Popular websites such as Facebook, [122] Twitter, [123] YouTube, [124] the English version of the BBC, [125] websites of major opposition candidates, and the popular blog host, blogfa.com were all blocked by the IRI. [126]  After SMS traffic increased leading up to the election, the country’s text messaging network went down just nine hours prior to the polls opening. [127]  On June 13th, all cell phone services were shut off, though cell phone service, without the ability to send text messages, returned the following day (June 14th). [128] 

            Blocking websites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and the BBC crippled Iranian citizens’ ability to organize and to access stories on the on-going events of the revolution.  The IRI made it difficult for reporters from mainstream media outlets to report and it had successfully jammed a BBC satellite, interrupting reporting from the BBC network to viewers in Iran, the Middle East, and Europe. [129]  However, the ingenuity of the public was not deterred by these attempts.  Ordinary citizens, who were not employed by newspapers and who had received no journalistic training, were sending updates on the protests and demonstrations to the Iranian diaspora across the world. [130]  These citizen journalists were using the simple technologies of their cell phones to take photos and videos of the demonstrations, and then uploading them to services like Flikr, a simple online repository of digital images. [131]  After the photo or video was uploaded, the citizen journalist could send a tweet to Twitter users linking to the photo or video stored on websites like Flikr. [132]  In doing so, these citizen journalists scooped the reporters from major hub-and-spoke news syndicates because they were able to covertly gather information without being identified as journalists from a foreign news network, whose coverage was “limited by Iranian government restrictions barring journalists from ‘unauthorized’ demonstrations.” [133]  In a historically significant reversal of roles, the major news syndicates, after being criticized on Twitter and elsewhere for failing to cover the revolution, eventually reported footage from citizen journalists on its international news networks. [134]  The citizen journalists—many of them, women—supplanted the major news syndicates because the citizen journalists were able to defeat government censorship by utilizing simple P2P communication to bypass the “server” (in this case, the news syndicate), which can be controlled by the government, as it was here, in order to get the information from the citizen journalist to the reader.  Evgeny Morozov, a female journalist in Iran, wrote that “Twitter’s open platform and excellent ability to quickly spread information in [a] decentralized fashion are perfect for this [publicizing protests and drawing the world’s attention to the acts of violence committed by the IRI].” [135]  The citizen journalists’ act of bypassing the server to communicate the information directly to the information consumer on the Internet was the defining act of the Twitter Revolution, and one that will have widespread implications for oppressed segments of society in the future.

 

 

B. TWITTER REVOLUTION’S EFFECT ON IRANIAN WOMEN

 

            The Twitter Revolution of June 2009 will have an undeniable effect on the women’s rights movement in Iran.  The IRI fears the reformist women’s rights movement not only because it could elevate the status of women, but because it could spur widespread democratic reform throughout the country. [136]  For decades, women in Iran have not been afforded the same legal rights as men, [137] have not been allowed equal participation in public affairs as men, [138] and have not enjoyed the equal status of men in their culture. [139]  Iranian women can change this by communicating with each other online, where women can unify, both locally and internationally, around the common cause of women’s rights. [140]  The traditional hub-and-spoke model of print journalism has not allowed Iranian women to communicate their concerns to each other or rally around each other in support, as the women were able to do peer-to-peer in Reading Lolita in Tehran.  As of 2008, women only accounted for one quarter of journalists in Iran and were only scarcely represented in the senior editorial and managerial positions that could dictate the output of the press. [141]  The lack of female journalists and the dearth of female publishers have made traditional forms of hub-and-spoke journalism an ineffective means for advocating the principles of the Iranian women’s rights movement.  The few Iranian print publications that have been owned by women and have employed women to write about women’s rights have been mostly eradicated through the IRI’s direct intervention.  In Journalism in Iran – From Mission to Profession, [142] Hossein Shahidi observes that “real change in the conditions of Iranian women journalists would require a much wider degree of debate and participation than has taken place in the Iranian press so far.” [143]  The Internet, in particular the P2P networks within it, is capable of becoming the forum in which women will be able to engage in a wider degree of debate and participation. 

The Internet is capable of filling the communication void that women need to bridge in order to transmit their message of equal rights amongst themselves and to their governments and cultures.  One of the important functions of the Internet, which P2P networks only enhance, is the ability for women to gain access to information that, before the Internet, women, especially in rural areas, were unable to access. [144]  The Internet has the potential to empower women because it is a public space that women can access from the privacy of their home. [145]  Gaining access to public spaces while in the privacy of one’s home is particularly empowering to Iranian women, who have, for the last few decades, been banned from participating in discourse in physical public spaces.  The ability to access “spaces other than the bedroom and the kitchen, and to fully and safely be able to act in other public spaces is key to women’s full participation in the world’s future.” [146]  P2P networks, in contrast to mediums such as blogs or websites, further empower women by allowing them to participate in this pubic space anonymously, allowing women to communicate with one another without interference from the IRI’s blocking mechanisms [147] and without fear of reprisal by a hostile government.

As far back as 1995, when the Internet as we now know it was in its infancy, women were using the Internet as a gathering place when a physical public space was not available because of an oppressive governmental regime.  Such boundaries of private and public space were challenged in 1995, when the United Nations sponsored the Fourth World Conference on Women and the Non-Government Organizations (NGO) forum. [148]  The conference was important to the women’s movement because it may have been the first time that women united globally, through the Internet, to discuss women’s rights. [149]  At the World Conference on Women, “Electronic technology effectively bridged the gap created by the Chinese government’s strict media censorship of conference activities...Women attending the conference were able to successfully circumvent the so-called ‘information vacuum’ and thereby keep up to date with events unreported on Chinese television and radio.  Women around the world had direct access to the same information, and electronic conferences were set up via e-mail to further encourage global communication.” [150]  Through the creative use of technology, participants of the Beijing conference were able to bypass the censors of the Chinese government to communicate with one another globally in a classically peer-to-peer way.  In doing so, the women at the conference were able to unify through short messages that escaped the grasp of the Chinese government in the same way that the women in Reading Lolita in Tehran were able to unify through conversations that took place in a private home, equally out of the government’s reach. 

            The early hub-and-spoke forms of websites and blogs are unable to form the bridge that the women formed in Reading Lolita in Tehran, that the women formed at the Beijing conference, and that the women journalists formed during the Twitter Revolution.  Websites and blogs, like books and newspapers, are too easily manipulated by governments because these formats are too centralized.  A website can be eradicated by targeting the owner of the server on which it is stored and from which readers access it.  A blog can be eradicated by not only targeting the owner of the server, but if the blogger is identified, the government can choose to imprison him or her.  The IRI’s control of the “hub” of traditional modes of journalism has prevented Iranian women from unifying with one another and with women internationally.  P2P technologies solved the problem of government intervention into file sharing, and when the same technologies were adopted by social networking services, P2P solved the problem of government intervention into communications between its citizens. 

            In April 2000 two Iranian women and five Iranian men were jailed after criticizing the application of shari’a in Iran. [151]  Prominent feminists did not come to the defense of the jailed. [152]  One such feminist explained that she sympathized with the plight of the jailed but feared that her feminist journal, Zanan would be closed if she spoke out. [153]  If the 2009 P2P technologies had existed in 2000, such feminists would not have feared retribution from the government because 1) with P2P, the importance of hub-and-spoke publications such as journals are diminished, so feminists would not be as fearful of having them shut down and 2) feminists could have criticized the government anonymously, through channels over which the government had no control.  P2P technologies hold the potential to realize a feminist vision of the Internet as a network of “safe communities where women can come together and boldly declare those things that they dare only whisper, if they dare at all, in their own physical communities.” [154]  It is P2P technology that has finally made it possible to do on a global scale in 2009 what the women in Reading Lolita in Tehran were doing clandestinely on a small scale in 1995: communicate to each other about the lack of equal rights between men and women in Iran. 

 

C.  PEER-TO-PEER TECHNOLOGY AS DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

 

            Though P2P technology has shown promise as a vehicle for enabling underrepresented sectors of society, like women, to communicate with and therefore empower one another, the same features of P2P technology that create this positive change also simultaneously threaten to hinder or eradicate it.  Kelly and Etling write that “If the Iranian blogosphere is a place where women speak out for their rights, young people criticize moral police, journalists fight against censorship, reformists press for change, and dissidents press for revolution, it is also a place where the Supreme Leader is praised, the Holocaust denied, the Islamic Revolution defended, Hezbollah celebrated, Islamist student groups mobilized, and pro-establishment leaders, including President Ahmadinejad, reach out to their very real constituencies within the Iranian public.” [155]  Like blogging, newer P2P communication technologies share the same pitfalls due to the freedom P2P technologies provide.

            During the Twitter Revolution, pro-democracy activists used P2P technologies to launch denial of service (DDOS) attacks against government websites. [156]  A DDOS attack occurs when many different computers are manipulated to simultaneously send requests for data to a single server.  That single server is typically not designed to handle so many simultaneous requests, and the result is that the server usually fails and the content it is hosting (such as a website) goes offline.  In the Twitter Revolution, the activists used DDOS attacks to disable such government websites as leader.ir, ahmadinejad.ir, and iribnews.ir. [157]  While this alone may not be viewed as negative, “experts worry that the attacks may be used by the Iranian government to justify their own filtering or, worse, may cripple the Iranian network as a whole.” [158]  Morozov reminds readers that “the 1979 Iranian revolution was facilitated and brought about by tape recorders and video cassettes.” [159]  Ayatollah Khomeini, in exile in France, was able to use cassette tapes and fax machines to send his teachings from Europe to the people in Iran. [160]  It was, again, another P2P technology that helped bring to power a government that has ignored the rights of women. 

            Another problem with replacing the hub-and-spoke model of publishing with the more democratized and decentralized P2P model is that the information communicated from one peer to another could be completely inaccurate, false, or of such low quality that it is unhelpful.  Yochai Benkler argues that “the following are required for an ideal liberal public sphere: universal intake (everyone should be able to be heard and participate), filtering for potential political relevance (filter out what is most important for political action), filtering for accreditation (essentially filtering for credibility, usually through professional journalists, bloggers, or other institutions), synthesis of ‘public opinion’ into something actionable in the political sphere, and independence from government control.” [161]  A very positive function of the hub-and-spoke publishing model is that the hub serves many of the functions that Benkler lists as being necessary for an ideal public sphere.  Through fact-checking, editorializing, and being held accountable for the content it publishes to consumers, the hub has a tendency to eliminate inaccurate, false, or low quality reportage and therefore produce a product that can generally be trusted to be reliable and true (though this certainly is not the case when the government is controlling the hub, as explained above).  With P2P networks, peers must perform the functions that were formerly performed by the hub.  Each consumer of P2P information must do her own fact-checking, editorializing, and verifying the veracity of the information she is consuming.  This becomes difficult when the democratization and decentralization of communications produce many more publishers of information, each with its own degree of quality. 

            Kelly and Etling conclude that blogs meet each of Benkler’s requirements. [162]  However, Kelly’s conclusion glosses over the last and most important element to Iranians, which is “independence from government.” [163]  The IRI has been effective in suppressing the content of blogs through filtering and blocking, registration requirements, and the threat of punishment levied against bloggers.  The blog, once eluding the grasp of the IRI, has been in large part reigned in by the IRI.  Without the IRI’s successful efforts to minimize the impact of the blog as a communication medium, there would be no need for the more democratized, dynamic, and decentralized P2P networks.  With that said, those very qualities that enable P2P networks to escape government control also create problems when it comes to authenticating the information passing through them.  However, it is possible for a P2P user to find reliable, quality P2P content. 

            During the Twitter Revolution, the IRI was using its agents to log onto Twitter to spread misinformation and instill panic. [164]  The IRI agents were taking advantage of the inability to verify the information on Twitter to deliberately send false information over the network, which is an example of exactly the sort of danger which could make P2P models of communication ultimately harmful to reformists movements like the women’s rights movement.  Morozov commented after the Twitter Revolution that, “I think we’re are at a point where we don’t really have a choice; If the Iran [sic] succeeds in banning foreign reporters from doing any real work in the country, all we’ll be left with would be Twitter and blog reports, so we’d better figure out ways in which we can prioritize and authenticate this information.” [165]  During the Twitter Revolution, creative Twitter users attempted to so prioritize and authenticate the tweets they were reading by creating a website called TwitSpam, which featured a list of government agents who were spreading false information over the Twitter network. [166]  On TwitSpam, a reader of a tweet would be able to look up the tweet author’s username on TwitSpam to determine whether the tweet author was a government agent, whose message, therefore, could not be trusted.  In addition to ferreting out communicators of false information through websites such as TwitSpam, P2P consumers will also be able to identify communicators of true information through a journalist’s proven track record over time.  Many bloggers and online journalists have established themselves as creditable sources of information.  Even though these online journalists self-publish their messages without the use of a hub to screen them, the messages have become nonetheless reliable in the same way that the veracity of the information in a mainstream, hub-and-spoke publication has proven itself to be reliable over time.

 

 

 

V.  CONCLUSION

 

Bypassing the “gatekeepers” of information during the Twitter Revolution in June 2009 did not automatically equalize women with men in Iran, but it did demonstrate that the means are now available to help women achieve that.  The women in Reading Lolita in Tehran may have been the first adopters of P2P communications in modern Iran.  Though the literature discussed at their meetings was an ancient example of  “server-to-node” technology, the women communicated, through that literature, in a literally peer-to-peer way.  This peer-to-peer communication of the Iranian women’s experience is the very basis of the women’s rights movement.  The Internet, and more specifically P2P networks, “creates the possibility for an expanded dialogue between women.  An expanded dialogue means that more perspectives can be heard and can potentially influence the ongoing normative development of international human rights law.” [167]  The more women are able to organize and share their experiences, the stronger their position becomes and the more likely they are to achieve positive change in women’s rights.  The peer-to-peer gatherings in Reading Lolita in Tehran achieved this because they were able to decentralize and democratize their communications in ways that hub-and-spoke-modeled books, newspapers, websites, and blogs could not and will never be able to do. 

Books, newspapers, websites, and blogs did not work as effective mediums for organizing women in Iran because the models utilized by these mediums could be, and were in Iran, easily targeted and manipulated by a government seeking to eradicate the voice of an oppressed minority.  The women citizen journalists of the Twitter Revolution, as the women in the reading group in Reading Lolita in Tehran, were able to bypass the easily controlled hub of the hub-and-spoke model by speaking to one another peer-to-peer.  They did so by making their messages so succinct (under one hundred forty characters) that they were easily transmittable through simple and widely available technology, thereby effectively reducing the messages to sand passing easily through a filter only able to filter out stones (the long, lumbering publications published through hub-and-spoke technologies like books, newspapers, websites, and blogs).  By simplifying their communications, Iranian women simplified their message: that women in Iran are deserving of the same rights as men. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


APPENDIX

 Diagram 1: Hub-and-Spoke Model                                     Diagram 2: Peer-to-Peer Model



[1].     Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books 6 (2004). 

2.     Guardian, Timeline: Iran’s Foreign Relations, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/28/iran-usa-foreign-policy (accessed on November 16, 2009).

[3].     Macrohistory and World Report, The Iranian Revolution, http://www.fsmitha.com/h2/ch29ir.html (accessed on November 16, 2009).

     4.     Id.

[5].     Guardian, supra note 2.

[6].     Macrohistory and World Report, supra note 3.

7.     Id.

 

8.         Eva Patricia Rakel, The Political Elite, Women, and Journalism in Iran: Is Democratization

 Possible?, 7-4 Comp. Soc., 484, 485 (2008).

[9].     Rakel, supra note 8, at 484.

[10].   Id. at 484-85.

[11].   Id. at 485.

[12].   BBC News, Profile: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/3018932.stm (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[13].   Rakel, supra note 8, at 485.

[14].   Id.

[15].            Bill Berkeley, Bloggers vs. Mullahs: How the Internet Roils Iran, 23 World Pol’y J., Issue 1, 71,

73 (2006).

[16].   Rakel, supra note 8, at 486.

[17].   Valentine M. Moghadam, Women in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Legal Status, Social Positions,

and Collective Action, unpublished, 1 (2004), available at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/events/doc/ValentineMoghadamFinal.pdf. (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[18].   Id.

[19].   Id.

[20].   Rakel, supra note 8, at 486.

[21].   Id.

[22].   Moghadam, supra note 17, at 1.

[23].   Id.

[24].   Id.

[25].   Lucie Morrillon, PBS, Activists Face Obstacles Online in Winning Women’s Rights in Iran,

http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2008/09/activists-face-obstacles-online-in-winning-womens-rights-in-iran260.html (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[26].   Moghadam, supra note 17, at 1.

[27].   Morillon, supra note 25.

[28].   Id.

[29].   Id.

[30].   Moghadam supra note 17, at 5.

[31].   Id.

[32].   Id.

[33].   Id. at 7.

[34].   Id. at 2, citing, The Reproduction of Gender Inequality in the Islamic Republic: A Case

Study of Iran in the 1980s, 19 World Dev. (1991): 1335-50; Ch. 6 in V. M.  Moghadam, Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East ( 2003).

[35].   Macrohistory and World Report, supra note 3.

[36].            Global Campaign for Free Expression (GCFE), Article 19, Memorandum on Media Regulation in

 the Islamic Republic of Iran, at 4 (2006), http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/475e4e270.html (accessed Nov. 16, 2009).

[37].   Id. at 4, quoting Article 24, Constitution of Iran, available at http://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/ir00000_.html (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[38].   Id. at 4, quoting Article 4, Constitution of Iran, available at http://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/ir00000_.html (accessed Nov. 16, 2009). (“All civil, penal, financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political and other laws and regulations must be based on Islamic criteria.  This provision applies absolutely and generally to all Articles of the Constitution as well as all other laws and regulations, and the wise persons of the Guardian Council are judges in this matter”).

[39].   Asghar Shirazi, The Constitution of Iran, 51 (1997).

[40].   OpenNet Initiative (ONI), Internet Filtering in Iran, 2009, at 4,5, available at:

http://opennet.net/sites/opennet.net/files/ONI_Iran_2009.pdf (accessed Nov. 16, 2009), at 4, 5, quoting from Article 6, Press Law of the Islamic Republic of Iran, available at http://www.parstimes.com/law/press_law.html (accessed Nov. 16, 2009).

[41].   GCFE, supra note 36, at 5.

[42].   Id. at 8.

[43].   Berkeley, supra note 15, at 72.

[44].   Peter Feuilherade, Iran’s Banned Press Turns to Net,

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/not_in_website/syndication/monitoring/media_reports/2183573.stm (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[45].   GCFE, supra note 36, at 6, quoting Article 2(e) of Press Law.

[46].   Id., quoting Article 3, Iranian Constitution.  In addition to the prescriptions in Article 3, Article 5 requires that news be published with the best interests of the community in mind. 

[47].   Id., quoting Article 6, Press Law, available at http://www.parstimes.com/law/press_law.html

(accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[48].   Id.

[49].   Feuilherde, supra note 42.

[50].   Id.

[51].   Id.

            52.        John Kelly and Bruce Etling, Mapping Iran’s Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere, Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2008-01 (April 2008), available at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.law.harvard.edu/files/Kelly&Etling_Mapping_Irans_Online_Public_2008.pdf (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

 

[53].   Economist Intelligence Unit, Telecoms and Technology Forecast for Iran, August 18, 2008.

[54].   ONI , supra note 40, at 2 (Thirty-five percent of Iranians are Internet users, compared to the

Middle East’s average of twenty-six percent).

[55].   Id.

     56.   Payvand, Iranian Send 80 Million SMS Per Day, http://www.payvand.com/news/08/nov/1242.html (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[57].   Atieh Bahar Consulting, Iran Telecom Brief (2008),available at http://www.atiehbar.com/Resource.aspx?n=1000014 (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

 

[58].   Payvand, supra note 56.

[59].   Liora Hendelman-Baavur, Promises and Perils of Weblogistan: Online Personal Journals and the

Islamic Republic of Iran, The Middle East Rev. of International Affairs, Vol. 11, No. 2, June 2007, also available at http://www.gloria-center.org/meria/2007/06/hendelman-baavur.html (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[60].   ONI, supra note 40.

[61].   Berkeley, supra note15, at 72.  (“The Internet in Iran is challenging the Islamist regime’s ability to

control news and shape public opinion, particularly among Iran’s well-educated younger generation.”).

[62].   Id.

[63].   Hendelman-Baavur, supra note 59, (quoting  Azadeh Moaveni, a Time Magazine reporter in Iran,

who wrote that during the late 1990s “young people [in Iran] were busy launching weblogs...intellectuals were writing innovative, sparkling satire, graphic designers were creating websites for the west.  Their interest was turning intensely outward, to the world of ideas outside.”).

[64].   Berkeley, supra note 15, at 73.

[65].            Payvand, Iran Ranks 32nd in the World in Terms of Number of Websites,

http://www.payvand.com/news/09/may/1252.html (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009), (In term of number of websites created, Iran is ranked 32nd in the world.  As of 2009, over 200,000 websites have been created in Iran, 118,000 of which have used the “.ir” domain).

[66].   Feuilherade, supra note 44.

[67].   Id.

[68].   Berkeley, supra note 15, at 72-3.

[69].   Id.

[70].   Id.

71.   Id.

[72].   Hendelman-Baavur, supra note 59.

[73].   Berkeley, supra note 15, at 72.

[74].   Kelly and Etling, supra note 52, at 29.

[75].   Id. at 8

[76].   Id. at 9

[77].   Id. at 12

[78].   Id. at 13

[79].   Berkeley, supra note 15, at 72.

[80].   ONI, supra note 40, at 5.

[81].   Id. 

[82].   Id.

[83].   Robert Tait, Guardian Unlimited, Censorship Fears Rise as Iran Blocks Access to Top Website,

http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,,1963`66,00.html (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[84].   ONI, supra note 40, at 6 (“The routing of Internet traffic through proxy servers offers the

potential for monitoring and logging essentially all unencrypted Web traffic, including e-mail, instant messaging and browsing.  The architecture of the Iranian Internet is particularly conducive to widespread surveillance as all traffic from the dozens of ISPs serving households is routed through the state-controlled telecommunications infrastructure of TCI.”).

[85].   Id. at 3,4

[86].   Id. at 4

[87].   Id.

[88].   Id.

[89].        Kelly and Etling, supra note 52, at 20.

[90].   Tait, supra note 83.

[91].   Hendelman-Baavur, supra note 59.

[92].   Id., citing Jadi, Opposing Women and Internet in the Third Millenium, available at http://www.jadi.net (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[93].   Neil MacFarquhar, Iran Cracks Down on Dissent, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/world/middleeast/24iran.html (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[94].   Id.

[95].   Omid Memarian, RIGHTS-IRAN: Bloggers Rebel at New Censorship, available at http:/www.ipsnews.net/print.asp?idnews=36123 (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[96].   Id.

[97].   Id.

[98].   ONI, supra note 40, at 5.  Failure to register a website or blog with the IRI’s agencies removes the case from the jurisdiction of the Press Court and into the jurisdiction of general courts, in which a publisher, if convicted, is then subject to penalties under Iran’s Penal Code.  If an unregistered website contains content that is deemed by IRI bureaucrats to be an “insult to religion”, creates “anxiety and unease in the public’s mind,” “spreads false rumors” or is untrue, the website’s operator, under the Penal Code, can be imprisoned for up to five years or can be put to death.  Additionally, because the case would be removed to the general courts, the defendant would not have the benefit of a jury trial.

[99].   Memarian, supra note 95.

[100]. Berkeley, supra note 15, at 72.

[101]. Hendelman-Baavur, supra note 63.

[102]. Morillen, supra note 25.

[103]. MacFarquhar, supra note 93.

[104]. Morillen, supra note 25.

[105]. Id.

[106]. Id.

[107]. Id.

[108]. Tait, supra note 83.  Prominent Iranian blogger, Parastoo Dokoohaki explains how the IRI’s restriction on high speed Internet speeds was intended to prevent dissidents from organizing online: “If you want to announce a gathering in advance, you won’t see if mentioned on official websites and newspapers would announce it too late.  Therefore, you upload it anonymously and put the information out.  Banning high-speed links would limit that facility.  Despite have the telecoms facilities, fibre-optic technology and internet infrastructure, the authorities want us to be undeveloped.”

[109]. ONI, supra note 40, at 3.

[110]. Id.

[111]. Id.

[112]. Id.

[113]    Memarian, supra note 95.

[114]. ONI, supra note 40, at 3 (“Designing the Internet infrastructure around a government-managed gateway—rare for a country [Iran] with this many Internet users—offers a central point of control that facilitates the implementation of Internet filtering and monitoring of Internet use”).

[115]. Kelly and Etling, supra note 52, at 23.

[116]. Id.

[117]. ONI, supra note 40, at 6.

[118]. Id. at 3

[119]. See, e.g., Morrillen, supra note 25.

[120]. Kelly and Etling, supra note 52, at 24.

[121]. Rebekah Heacock, Cracking Down on Digital Communication and Political Organization in Iran,  http://opennet.net/blog/2009/06/cracking-down-digital-communication-and-political-organizing-iran (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009). 

[122]. Facebook, http://www.facebook.com (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[123]. Twitter, http://www.twitter.com (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[124]. Youtube, http://www.youtube.com (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[125]. BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[126]. Heacock, supra note 121.

[127]. Id.

[128]. Id.

[129]. Id.

[130]. Evgeny Morozov, Iran Elections: A Twitter Revolution?, The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2009/06/17/DI2009061702232.html. (“In terms of involving the huge Iranian diaspora and everyone else with a grudge against Ahmadinejad, it [Twitter] has been very successful.”) (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[131]. Id.

[132]. Id.

[133]. Id.

[134]. Id.

     135. Morozov, supra note 130

[136]. Morillon, supra note 25.

[137]. Id.

[138]. Moghadam, supra note 17, at 2.

[139]. Id.

[140]. Reem Bahdi, Analyzing Women’s Use of the Internet Through the Rights Debate, 75 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 869, 892 (2000).

[141]. Rakel, supra note 8, at 486.

[142]. Shahidi Hossein, Journalism in Iran - From Mission to Profession (2007).

[143]. Id. at 93. 

[144]. Hendleman-Baavur, supra note 63. (“The unedited, and informal nature of weblogs has turned them into a source of empowerment for Iranian youth and especially for Iranian women.  It enables themes to access critical information (such as health and law), form online communities, gain social support, and experience mixed gender interactions”).

[145]. Bahdi, supra note 140, at 886.

[146]. Id. at 891, quoting Duncan Pruet & James Deanne, Panos Brief No. 28, The Internet and Poverty, available at http://www.oneworld.org/panos/briefing/interpov.html (accessed on Nov. 16, 2009).

[147]. ONI, supra note 40, at 7.  (“A notable change in the scope of filtering in Iran over the past several years has been an expansion of political filtering and blocking of human rights organizations, particularly targeting the women’s rights movement in Iran.”  After a blocking order issued by the IRI in 2008, many women’s rights and human rights websites and blogs were targeted, such as women’s rights websites www.we-change.org and www.feministschool.com, which are “consistently blocked in Iran.”).

[148]. Stacy Davis, Women Online: Beijing 1995, 4 Circles Buff. Women’s J. L. & Soc. Pol’y 65 (1995).

[149]. Id.

[150]. Id.

[151]. Moghadam, supra note 7, at 8.

[152]. Id.

[153]. Id.at 8, 9.

[154]. Bahdi, supra note 140, at 883, citing Gillian Youngs, “Virtual Voices: Real Lives,” in Women @ Internet: Creating New Cultures in Cyberspace 55, 67 (1990). 

[155]. Kelly and Etling, supra note 52, at 5.

[156]. Heacock, supra note 121.

[157]. Id.

[158]. Id.

[159]. Morozov, supra note, at 130.

[160]. Id.

[161]. Kelly and Etling, supra note 52, at 23.

[162]. Id.

[163]. Id.

[164]. Morozov, supra note 130.

[165]. Id.

[166]. Id.

[167]. Bahdi, supra note 140, at 887.