Considering the atrocious abuses of human rights committed by the Iranian government against those who speak out against its tyranny, it comes as no surprise that Iran, according to a Wall Street Journal investigative report, “has been conducting a campaign of harassing and intimidating members of its diaspora world-wide.” Farnaz Fassihi reports that Iranians living abroad, have received ominous emails from Iranian security forces, warning that their families will be in danger, if their actions against the regime persist. Many Iranian citizens have been detained at airports and interrogated as to their online social networking activity.
As the protests against the Islamic Republic have grown fiercer, sustaining more injuries and fatalities that those during the election, the government issued a crackdown on all its citizens, at home and abroad who seek to resist the regime’s authority. Tehran has caught on to the dangers that new media poses towards its power and seeks to keep its citizens passive. As a result, Iran instituted a number of “senior Internet lieutenants” trained to quiet the regime’s “virtual enemies online.” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and intelligence ministry even have a monitoring units used for tracking prominent political figures and activists. Automated voice recording, warning people making international phone calls, not to disseminate information were also used. Despite sloth-like internet speeds and frequently blocked access to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, Iranians persist. Those in-country turn to other means, such as cell phones to organize. Outside the country, threatened activists turn to other pacific means of resistance such as fundraising as was done under the 1979 Islamic Revolution. However, despite the threats, arrests, beatings, and countless other abuses, Iran’s revolutionaries refuse to stand down.
The potential consequences to those Iranians and their families who speak out against the autocratic regime are grim. Many sacrifices have and will continue to be made for the sake of freedom. They will continue to stand up against the weakening forces the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the illegitimate president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The United States, specifically the State Department should focus on working with networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to ensure that Iranians have the best access possible to communicate with each other and the rest of the world. Requesting that Twitter delay its site maintenance during the Iranian elections is just one example of how this engagement should continue.
Furthermore, while State has its own networking capabilities such as its DipNote blog and Facebook page, these forms of networking only go so far. The interest in American government and the American foreign policy has to be sought out by those living abroad. Many feel this can be done by simply accessing the Washington Post or the New York Times. The State Department must develop innovative ways of working with new media. Engaging search engines such as Google is one such example. Secretary Clinton has stated that she and Google are working together on problems with recent censorship in China. This should be done on a regular basis, and not only when a business deal between a U.S. company and communist country go awry. The U.S. has a wealth of new media resources to put in the service of free communication.