UPDATED: March 5, 2011
Here is a quick overview of why Iranians are protesting, how they’re protesting, and how you can help:
Why are Iranians protesting? Here are just a few reasons:
- Iran is not a free society. The Iranian people do not enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, or freedom of religion. Ethnic and religious minorities are often persecuted. The internet, SMS communication, and phone lines are often censored and wire-tapped.
- Iran’s economy is suffering. Unemployment and inflation are very high. For years, the only way Iranians managed was through government handouts. Now, those handouts are ending because of the economic and political problems there.
- Iran’s defiance of the international community has meant that the Iranian people have suffered through sanctions for years, and the international sanctions are only getting worse.
- Iran’s political system consists of a religious leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, a President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a Parliament. Despite this structure, the Supreme Leader has almost complete control over society.
- Since coming to power in 2005, Ahmadinejad has consolidated his power in an increasingly militarized state. Political dissidents have been imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and executed. Journalists have been arrested, as have human rights activists, and even their lawyers. Ahmadinejad has expanded the role of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Basij force, a group of plain-clothed police-like thugs who beat dissenters. Ahmadinejad often wears a windbreaker to symbolize that he is head of this group of thugs. The message is clear: step out of line, and we will beat your brains in.
- On June 12, 2009, the Iranians held presidential elections. Many expected a reformer, Mir Hossein Mousavi, to win. He lost, and many thought the election was rigged. There is plenty of evidence that the election was rigged, and more has emerged recently, including evidence from recent Wikileaks posts. Millions poured out into the streets to protest, but the government responded by kicking out foreign press and cracking down on protesters. The Green Movement, the opposition to the current leadership in Iran, was born.
- Since the June 2009 elections, hundreds have died, tens of thousands of Iranians have been at least temporarily detained, and thousands remain in prison (see a presentation of the dead and imprisoned). Hundreds of journalists have been imprisoned, and at least 68 remain in prison today, making Iran the largest single jailer of the press. Many in prison are tortured, and at least three dissidents have died from torture inside Iranian prisons since the elections.
How Do Iranians Protest?
After the elections, as many as 2-3 million Iranians took to the streets in Tehran alone. When the regime censored the internet and removed foreign journalists, the activists used Twitter and Youtube to spread information. As the crowds mounted, Iran became a model for the use of technology in a modern revolution, a model that was used by Tunisia and Egypt at the beginning of 2011.
By the end of July, however, the government had forced many of the protesters underground. Soon after this, the Green Movement began to co-opt Iranian religious or political holidays, turning them into protest events. By 2010, this pattern had been very successful. Everyone following this story focused on February 11th, 2010, (22 Bahman in the Persian Calendar), the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Many predicted this would be the day that the Green Movement would triumph. It was not to be.
The government of Iran was prepared for the protest events. They censored the internet, cracked down on dissenters before the event, and cordoned off Tehran’s largest Square, Azadi (freedom) square, with security fences and a giant fence. The Green Movement’s protests were broken up before they had a chance to even start. (see our summary of 22 Bahman, 2010, here)
For much of the last year, protests have been more scattered, smaller, and more subdued. But the Green Movement still exists, under the surface, and many of its members and leaders have been inspired by Egypt and Tunisia. Since Egypt’s government was toppled, the opposition movement has been rekindled. There have been several larger-scale protests, and the tensions between the government of Iran and the opposition movement is growing more intense.
How Can You Help the Iranians? By Getting Involved on Twitter, Facebook, and by Reading Blogs:
- Stay informed by following established blogs that follow Iranian news: Enduring America, Dissected News, Iran News Now, and the Tehran Bureau are three, but there are many others.
- Follow Iranian news on Twitter. The accepted hashtag for post-election Iranian news is #iranelection. Not all information there is accurate, so beware of those trying to manipulate you.
- Follow Twitter’s Hyperactivist @Lissnup who published this article – Updated Cyberwar Guide for Social Networks.
- The main stream media (MSM) sometimes doesn’t do a good job following news from Iran. The best way to stay informed, spread information, and make the media pay attention, is to Tweet information coming out of Iran.
- The most important thing to remember is that there is plenty of disinformation on Twitter, but if you are careful you can filter it out easily.
- Only Re-Tweet (RT) information from trusted sources. How can you tell what is legitimate? Look for links to established websites, and Twitter users who seem to have a good amount of respect from other Twitter users. Most people on #iranelection have been doing this for a long time, so they know who to trust. Never trust new accounts with few followers. When in doubt, ask.
- THIS IS NOT A GAME. Viruses and misinformation get spread when people don’t follow these simple rules. People are dying and being imprisoned in Iran, so the least we can all do is to make sure that we spread the truth.
- Misinformation makes us all look bad, and the last thing Iranians need is less press coverage because of misinformation.
- See this article: 10 Practical Ideas for Supporting Protests
REMEMBER: All of us are citizen journalists. Follow these rules and you can become one too.
A Brief History of Modern Iran: