Published on German public television channel ARD, news broadcast “Tagesschau”, December 31 2009
Source (German):

Violent clashes between opposition and security forces continue in Iran. The police used tear gas. Meanwhile, the police published 100 photos of the street fights, calling on citizens to report the names of the protesters.

Citizens are asked to provide the authorities with names of participants in the protests against the government. (photo: dpa)

by Ulrich Pick, ARD radio studio Istanbul

In the afternoon, several places in Tehran have seen renewed unrest. Opposition websites report clashes between supporters of the opposition and security forces to have taken place in Haft-e Tir Square in the center as well as in Southern Tehran at the grave of the nephew of the opposition leader, Ali Moussavi, who had been shot dead. Moreover, tensions are said to have occurred in several universities. The police used tear gas.

Prosecutor threatens to take legal actions against opposition
In the morning, hardliners had reiterated their warning that the opposition must quit their dissident activities. Prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie threatened to take legal actions against the opposition leaders for supporting enemies of God. Ultra conservatives in the country describe those who protested against the system last Sunday during the Shiite festival of Ashura as “Mohareb” – enemies of God. According to Iranian law, these people are apostates and therefore can be sentenced to death. Ebrahim Raisi, chief of the Judiciary, in this context told the official Iranian news agency IRNA that those who were arrested last weekend could as well be charged with being “Mohareb”.

Publishing photos of protesters
Yesterday, police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam mentioned that more than 500 people were arrested in the protests. Previously, security forces hat spoken of only 300 arrests. Moghaddam substantiated the increased figures saying that the Intelligence and the Basij volunteer corps had as well arrested people and detained them in their own facilities. Meanwhile, the opposition speaks of at least 800 arrests.

At least 18 aides to Moussavi are said to be among the arrested. The Iranian police on their website published around 100 photos of participants in Sunday’s street fights. It is claimed that they have destroyed police property, which is why the authorities called on the population to assist in their identification.

Published in “Tageszeitung” on December 31 2009
Source (German):

Protests against the regime in Tehran come to a head. Photo: AP

With the bloody unrest last weekend, altercations in Iran have reached a new peak. Is the government still in control?


BERLIN taz | For reconciliation with the opposition it was too late anyway, and now the Iranian regime apparently has decided to rule out every compromise with the opposition and with might and main squelch the protest movement.

However, the use of force poses risks for the rulers as well. For even large parts of the Islamic establishment disapprove of this approach. Major religious bodies and several Grand Ayatollahs have long ago distanced themselves; some even openly criticized the reactions of the government as incompatible with Islamic principles. Even many members of the state apparatus will probably not support a policy of escalation.

Many long-serving men of the Islamic Republic, who for decades have been controlling the state – two presidents, a prime minister, a parliamentary speaker, MPs and holders of key positions – have already sided with the opposition. Ever-larger segments of the population, religious believers, who have been faithfully serving the Islamic state, are outraged by the brutality used against the demonstrators by the regime. Thus, it is striking that fewer and fewer people attend the Friday prayers. Previously there were tens of thousands, now a few thousands attend at the most, despite all propaganda.

The more violence the regime applies, the more it becomes isolated. By now the government mainly draws upon military and paramilitary forces. Even then, however, the question is to what extent the government can rely on the loyalty of soldiers and militias. The Revolutionary Guards as well as the Basij militias are organizations that emerged from the revolution. Their families are part of the population. Therefore, it is questionable whether they will be ready for prolonged action against their own countrymen and shoot at their own brothers, sisters, and parents. Already there are unconfirmed reports about refusals to obey orders, even on middle command levels.

The use of force implies big risks for the opposition as well, though. First, it takes more and more courage to assume the risks in the face of violence. Already today, all protesters attending a demonstration risk either their lives, or being tortured and detained. And the violence causes an increasing radicalization of the opposition, as it could be observed during the unrest of last weekend, which in turn could result in a division of the protest movement itself.

For it is known that the current opposition leaders, above all the reformists Mir Hossein Mussawi, Mehdi Karrubi, and Mohammad Khatami, do not want a regime change, but reforms within the framework of the constitution of the Islamic Republic. The slogans, however, that were chanted by a larger part of the protesters on Sunday, are targeting the entire system. The slogan “Freedom, independence, Iranian Republic” that has been adopted by many supporters of the “Green Movement of Hope” shows that a part of the protesters does not strive for reforms, but for a new, democratic state. If the movement, as in recent months, does not manage to agree on demands like free elections, lift of censorship, freedom of press and speech, it will sooner or later be split.

On the other hand, a graveyard peace enforced by weapons will not solve the social, political, cultural, and first of all, the economical problems that brought about the protests.

Published in “Die Zeit” on December 31 2009
Source (German):

by Tina Klopp

Cellphones and cameras are always present: Opposition leader Moussavi at a rally in Tehran (picture: epa Saber/dpa)

The short message service Twitter has helped the insurgents in Iran. However, the government has long caught up and has started to pursue activists by turning their means against them.

When the Italian edition of the magazine Wired tried to put the internet on the list of proposals for the Nobel Peace Price, one prominent proof for its political power emerged: The twitter revolution in Iran. What they had in mind was the role that the net, and especially the message service Twitter, played in the protests following the presidential election in Iran. The American Time Magazine even called Twitter the media of the movement. And the twitter revolution received a “Webby Award” for being one of the “Top 10 internet momentums of the past decade”.

However, as it is so often the case, this development has its dark sides as well, not only because the Iranian government soon began to increase its control over the internet, sometimes even slowing it down to an extent that made any proper usage impossible. No, they even started using the techniques of the activists in order to identify and pursue them.

For example, the government has meanwhile started to use a technique called deep packet inspection, allowing them to automatically search for key words in the current data traffic. This writes Will Heaven in the British Telegraph. Neither the sender, nor the receiver notice that someone has secretly monitored their messages, he says.

Deep packet inspection is normally used by Western internet services to analyze their data flow in order to, for example, identify users of file sharing services and purposefully slow down those data flows. In this way, authors of regime-critical contents in Iran could be identified and tracked down via their IP adress. In that case, the security forces could easily seize all evidence from the computers and arrest the regime opponents.

“Those outside Iran cannot always absolve themselves of responsibility”, writes Heaven. “If you’re an internet user in Britain who communicates with an Iranian protester online, or encourages them to send anti-regime messages over the internet, you could be putting their life in danger”, he warns. *)
*) Translator’s note: Quotes of Will Heaven are taken from his article in The Telegraph

Heaven refers to the many hundreds that were killed since the beginning of the protests. Many of those who have meanwhile been released were abused and raped in the notorious prisons in Iran. The Austrian expert on Iran, Walter Posch, said in an interview that he has severed all connections with Iran because he is known as a security politician. In order to not endanger his contact persons, he now communicates only through intermediaries.

On entering the key word “iranelection” on Twitter, the number of updates sometimes increases by the hundreds. But how many of the activists are really in Iran? Where, for example, is TehranBureau, last time reporting on the unrest on December 27? One can only hope that it will soon reappear.

Will Heaven believes that the majority of the social media enthusiasts is sitting in safe Western living rooms. They should stop fancying that they can change the world by punching the keys of a new online tool with their “fat fingers”.

Michael Pohly, however, an Iran expert at the Free University of Berlin, in response to an e-mail inquiry states: “the Iranian people use every technical means to spread information to the outside world”. Exposed persons are monitored, however, they face imprisonment and torture, because this [probably referring to dissident activity. Translator’s note] is often put on one level with treason. The Iranians, however, do find technical ways and possibilities to spread information and send it abroad. “You will excuse me for not going into detail about the ways and methods they use to again and again slip through the nets of control established by the authorities.”, Pohl writes.

Some very active twitter accounts are IranRiggedElect, iran88, and manic77, to only name a few of the services that publish news (also) in English. For example, currently an excerpt from a hacked police radio conversation of December 27 is circulated which can certainly be seen as an encouragement to all protesters: Security forces seem to be in serious trouble handling the problems. Some policemen did not even want to leave the police station, fearing the station could be taken over in case too many policemen leave to take action against the protesters.

Austin Heap, a web expert from San Francisco, provides technical support to Iranian dissidents. He also reports to CNN that the Iranian government has meanwhile become much more efficient in confronting the protesters on the net. Heap, however, provides them with secure proxy connections that allow them to continue publishing their contents without being identified.

The Haystack project, another project of support, has the explicit task to help Iranians circumvent censorship. Also anonymizing techniques such as Tor can help senders of dissident messages to disguise their identity.

Again and again, technical safety advice is being circulated on Twitter. For example, many websites of the opponents of the regime are brought down through so-called “cross-site scripting”, or the hint that Firefox is currently the most secure browser, “especially with the add-on NoScript”. Currently, there is an urgent call to not click on links, because this could trigger a massive e-mail attack. “Make sure to type the link, do not click on it!”

Because independent media can no longer operate in Iran, courageous amateur film makers have taken over the visual coverage as well – by cell phone cameras. In case they get caught, they face several years in prison. On the pages of the Foreign Office it says that tourists are strongly recommended to avoid all political rallies, crowds, and demonstrations, and to refrain from filming or sound recordings – even with cell phones. The same applies to SMS and phone calls. However, to confiscate all cell phones from all Iranians would be too much even for the Iranian security forces, reports an Iranian exile.

Perhaps the protests meanwhile have reached a critical mass, which would significantly reduce the risk for each individual activist. The more people feel they are not alone in their struggle against the regime, the better it is for everyone – because the Internet can certainly help mobilizing. Moreover, the search for “exposed” leaders stagnates if a movement is essentially independent of a single organizer.

Other expat Iranians, however, say that friends stick to traditional ways of organizing themselves, for example, by periodically meeting in markets or other public places. The internet only plays a subordinate role.

What the net can really do, however, is to increase awareness about what is going on in Iran. This is not even questioned by Telegraph author Heaven, despite all his scorn for the twitterers with their “fat fingers”. One should just not cherish the illusion that sending a couple of tweets from secure Western living rooms can really help the courageous fighters in Iran – on the contrary, sometimes this can even have opposite effects.