As I sat down to write this post about the blogging scene in Iran, I stumbled upon this excellent video about just that subject.  Check it out!

“Iran: A Nation of Bloggers” was made by Vancouver Film School students Aaron Chiesa, Toru Kageyama, Hendy Sukyara, and Lisa Temes, and written by Kate Tremillis. The video uses powerful illustrations (inspired by Marjane Satratpi‘s “Pesepolis“) to show how for many Iranians blogging is the most effective way to express themselves. Online forums can empower them to discuss and debate topics that are banned from the public discourse.

This video highlights the fact that blogging is a risky endeavor for Iranian citizens. According to Reporters Without Borders, “Iran has the biggest number of threatened cyber-dissidents in the Middle East and dozens of websites are shut down each year”. Some high-profile arrests of bloggers have recently made international headlines. Hossein Derakhshan, referred to as the “Blogfather” of the Iranian blogosphere, is reported to have been arrested for charges of spying for Israel, a crime punishable by death. Another blogger, Shahnaz Gulami, has also been arrested for blogging about Iran’s treatment of ethnic minorities.

The government has felt so threatened by the blossoming of dissident blogs that the Iran Human Rights Voice is reporting that the Revolutionary Guard has started 10,000 weblogs “for the purposes of adding “quality content” to the Internet” and to establish “the presence of the guards in the weblog publishing domain”. Even Iranian President, Mahmood Ahmadinejahd has his own blog.

Iranian Internet users also face the additional challenge of Internet censorship. The government has banned as many as five million websites, including YouTube and Facebook. All Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, must be approved by the Ministry of Culture and must install filters that block all sites and emails deemed inappropriate. All websites must also register with the Ministry. Internet censorship is certainly limited to Iran. Other countries, including Turkey, China, and even Australia, use, or are considering using, filters to block their citizens’ access to illegal and offensive material.

But despite all of these challenges, Iranian bloggers continue to publish their opinions, thoughts, hopes, and criticisms. The diversity of opinion among Iranian bloggers is remarkable. While some call for democracy and reform, others debate the tenants of Islamic law. Still others discuss their personal lives or post poetry and art. Like bloggers around the world, their goal is to express themselves. Hopefully someday that expression will not have to be limited to the Internet.