On Nov. 18, two Iranian Internet activists, Ali Behzadian Nejad and Omid Lavassani, were sentenced to six years in prison. Their crimes? Mr. Lavassani had the audacity to design a Web site for the leading opposition figure Mir Hossein Mousavi. Mr. Nejad is being jailed for “published comments” written by others on his blog, and “propaganda against the system.”
Iranian laws about the Web are purposely kept vague. Ahmed Batebi, the dissident who recently escaped Tehran after eight years in prison, told me that “The regime can arrest people and bloggers for any reason precisely because the laws are not clear.”
A journalist in the city of Yazd recently reported several cases of bloggers being shut down or involved in lawsuits due to readers’ comments. And on Nov. 14, local Iranian press reported that a new police unit was formed to fight “insults and the spreading of lies” on the Internet—another phrase which effectively bans any criticism of the regime.
It’s hard to believe in light of this Internet repression, but Iran’s president is himself a blogger. “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Personal Memos” is the place where he goes to vent and stay in touch with the common folk. He says he allots himself 15 minutes a week to write on his blog, but admits that at times he exceeds this limit.