Freedom: “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”
Freedom of information!
Freedom of speech!
Freedom to assemble!
Freedoms Western democracies’ citizens enjoy are distant dreams for many people worldwide. Desired freedoms are continuously fought for but often denied. Unfortunately, Iran is among the countries continuously making headlines not for its rich history, diverse people, and copious accomplishments, but the government’s societal strangulation.
Updating blogs, forums, Facebook, and Twitter, with personal opinions, some of which criticize the United States government, many Americans’ social existence is plausible because of the rights granted by the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
What would happen if those rights were revoked?
As evidenced by Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution, also called the “Twitter Revolution,” whereby social media platforms were used to express discontent with the Iranian government, Iranians are opinionated, informed people, who yearn for change. The government’s response was to shut down, and ban, social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
More than three years later, Iranian citizens continue to fight for government reform but against a backdrop of cyberspace restrictions that hinder information dissemination and subsequent consequences for using banned technological mediums and/or using other platforms to speak out against the government or express views differing from the government’s. Those accused of such acts have been harassed, arrested, and allegedly tortured.
Despite Iranians’ desire for social progress and government reform, the Iranian government hinders free expression, instead instilling fear. In June 2012, a father was allegedly arrested for his son’s Facebook activity while studying abroad in Holland. In November 2012, blogger Sattar Beheshti died shortly after his arrest, presumably for political Facebook and blog writings. Most recently, Iran arrested more than a dozen Iranian journalists for allegedly working with the government’s opponents and foreign media organizations.
Outside cyberspace, the Iranian government works to constrict freedom of speech and expression, effectively strangling creativity. With a rich history of art, architecture, and other creative mediums, Iranians under the current regime live in fear of repercussions from pursuing their crafts. In January 2013, five Iranian musicians were arrested, charged with, “illegal production and distribution of underground music for Los Angeles-based musicians and satellite channels.”
Iranian poet and composer, Yaghma Golrouie, brought attention to the arrests with a letter that was published by a student news organization.
In his letter, he said:
“The detained musicians, or in the words of police authorities ‘notorious gang members’, include songwriters Bemani and Afshin Moghaddam and composer Alireza Afkari … their work has significantly contributed to Iran’s flourishing music industry and has always been within the framework of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry. This is how musicians are dealt with in Iran: Not only are they constantly warned of harsh retribution and arrest, but they are also labeled as criminals and gang members.”
While the world takes an overactive interest in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, less attention is paid to the human rights issues in Iran. Although the Iranian government’s nuclear intentions are an important international issue, it sometimes seems as though society’s plight takes a backseat to the hot topic of nuclear weapons. Understandable why the international community concerns itself with Iran’s nuclear program, perhaps it is time for global leaders to take a different approach to resolving the longstanding issues.
The Iranian presidential election is set to take place in June 2013. Instead of continuing to attempt to deal with an unwavering regime through diplomatic efforts, a grassroots effort to empower Iranian citizens to affect change in their government may be more effective. The Iranian people need to know that despite widespread international objection to Iran’s nuclear program, the international community supports them and their efforts to secure social, religious, and political freedoms.