Media Matters: Iran’s anniversary surprise – no more Gmail

This is the the first time that the Iranian government has owned up to trying to stifle dissidents by disrupting its citizens’ communications with the rest of the world.

Yesterday marked the 31st anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution in which Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Not surprisingly, the Iranian government under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pulled out all the stops in its attempt to stifle the opposition and present a united, celebratory front. We all know that is certainly not the case in Iran today, but why should a little thing like that deter Ahmadinejad from doing what he does best – deny, deny deny (the Holocaust, a nuclear weapons program, that the people of Iran are suffering under him, etc.)?
The government, on Wednesday – just one day ahead of the anniversary – reportedly conducted massive security sweeps in an attempt to deter protests by interrupting Internet and mobile text messaging services and confiscating satellite televisions. The bigger news, however, came in the form of announcement by Iran’s telecommunications agency that Google’s very popular e-mail program, Gmail, had been banned, and that soon a new national e-mail service would be rolled out, especially for Iranian citizens.
How sweet. A new way to censor and monitor the Iranian people, Ahmadinejad, you shouldn’t have!
While this definitely is not the first time the Iranian government has tried to stifle its dissidents by disrupting its citizens communications with the rest of the world, it’s the first time it has owned up to it – in fact, it almost seems to be patting itself on the back.
Last May, during the presidential election, Ahmadinejad was slammed with accusations that his government banned access to the popular social networking site Facebook – where his opponent in the election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, enjoyed wide support. Ahmadinejad denied that his government was responsible for the blockage and expressed his belief in “maximum freedom of expression.” Laughable if it weren’t so sad.
A statement issued by the US State Department in response to the Gmail ban read, “While information technologies are enabling people around the world to communicate like never before, the Iranian government seems determined to deny its citizens access to information, the ability to express themselves freely, network and share ideas. Virtual walls won’t work in the 21st century any better than physical walls worked in the 20th century. The Iranian people are dynamic and determined and will find a way to overcome the obstacles the Iranian government puts in their way.”
SO THE real question now becomes what’s next? How far does this Iranian government think it can go before the next time Iranians take to the streets to celebrate another revolution? And the next time, it won’t be the defeat of the shah they’re commemorating.
If there’s one thing we have learned about the Iranian people over the last few years, it is that they have incredible resolve. The Iranian government, led by Ahmadinejad, has tried so hard to keep its citizens in check by restricting their access to the rest of the world. But it severely underestimates their passion and determination.
At the beginning of the year, Iran quietly released a list of more than60 international organizations with which Iranian citizens wereforbidden to have contact. Since the regime is convinced that the worldoutside of Iran is plotting to bring down the Islamic republic,internationally respected think tanks like the Brookings Institution,major media outlets like the BBC and even prestigious academicinstitutions like Yale University were all blacklisted for theirinvolvement in waging “soft war” on Iran. This government’s actionssignal an almost irrational fear of all things foreign, but try as itmight to suppress the reality of what’s happening among the dissidents,it’s clear that any transformation that comes to Iran will undoubtedlycome from within.
In response to the release of the blacklist, a hacker broke intoAhmadinejad’s personal blog and posted a cheeky message for newvisitors which read: “Dear God, in 2009 you took my favorite singer –Michael Jackson – my favorite actress – Farrah Fawcett – my favoriteactor – Patrick Swayze – my favorite voice – Neda.” The hacker thenadded, “Please, please, don’t forget my favorite politician –Ahmadinejad – and my favorite dictator – Khameini – in the year 2010.Thank you.”
Ahmadinejad, there is always going to be some young computer-savvyrebel who knows how to bypass the system, break through the wallsyou’ve tried so hard to create and make you look like a complete fool.And he won’t need the help of Facebook, Brookings, Yale, the BBC oreven Gmail to do it.