22 June 2009

Iranians Standing Up for Free Speech

There was a cartoon in the Boston Globe newspaper last week about developments in Iran since the country’s disputed presidential election. It shows two religious leaders standing on a balcony, overlooking a large crowd of protestors. One of the men is shouting “expel the correspondents,” a reference to the crackdown by Iranian authorities aimed at preventing foreign journalists from reporting on events.

But the other religious leader notes that in addition to protest signs, the crowd of demonstrators includes many holding up cellphones, cameras and other electronic devices – some labeled “Facebook”, “Twitter” and “email.” In response to the man shouting “expel the correspondents,” the other says, “but they’re all correspondents!”

Since the disputed June 12 election and the ensuing demonstrations and clashes between protestors and security forces, Voice of America’s Persian News Network, like other news organizations, has received hundreds of pieces of video sent in by ordinary Iranians. These videos are carefully evaluated by Farsi speaking staff before being used in airshows and posted on the web.

Some of these citizen contributions clearly reflect the courage of the contributors, like the one showing militia opening fire on protestors, clearly wounding some of them. Another shows a young woman, just moments after she has been fatally shot. Still another shows baton-wielding police lashing out at group of people that includes elderly women. The video-shooter, a man, can be heard shouting emotionally at the police to “stop beating old ladies” – even as he continues to film the scene.

The world owes these citizen journalists in Iran a deep debt of gratitude. With the government arrests, deportations and attacks on professional journalists, they continue to defy Iran’s effort to eliminate all potential witnesses to what is unfolding in the country.

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