Friday, November 19, 2010

Blogging in the Middle East, hazardous at best

The world’s youngest detained blogger, 18-year-old Navid Mohebbi, is currently being tried behind closed doors before a revolutionary court in the northern Iranian city of Amol. His lawyer is not being allowed to attend the trial, which began on 14 November.
Arrested at his home in Amol on 18 September by eight intelligence ministry officials, Mohebbi is facing the possibility of a long prison sentence. A women’s rights activist who keeps a blog called “The writings of Navid Mohebbi” (, he had been summoned and questioned several times by various intelligence services in the past year. He was beaten at the moment of his arrest and has been held in cell with ordinary offenders ever since.
Mohebbi has been accused of “activities contrary to national security” and “insulting the Islamic Republic’s founder and current leader (...) by means of foreign media.” He has also been accused of being member of the “One Million Signatures” movement, a campaign to collect signatures to a petition for changes to laws that discriminate against women (to be found on the “Change for Equality” website).
Mohebbi’s case is not isolated. Many Iranian netizens have been arrested, prosecuted or convicted. Ten of them are currently in prison in Iran. One of the detained bloggers is Ahmad Reza Ahmadpour, a cleric and editor of the “Silent Echo” website ( He has been held since 27 December 2009 in the religious city of Qom and is serving a one-year sentence on charges of “disseminating false information attacking the government” and “discrediting the Shiite clergy.” He went on hunger strike last year in protest against his prison conditions and sent an open to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.
Until Mohebbi’s arrest, the world’s youngest blogger in detention was the Syrian high school student Tal Al-Mallouhi, who was 18 when she was arrested on 27 December 2009 after responding to a summons from a Syrian intelligence agency. She is still being held by the intelligence agency although no charge has so far been brought against her.

 Another blogger who was rcently arrested is Waleed al Husseini, of the West Bank town of Qalqiya. His crime is that he posted  atheistic views in English and Arabic blogs, as well as apparently well made and poetic fake Quranic verses on a Facebook page. (His English blog, with remarkably candid statements can he found here: A proud Atheist). Some call him the new Kareem Amer, an Egyptian blogger who just completed his four year sentence for insulting Islam en president Mubarak and was released ten days late.

A number of people put up a Facebook page, with a call for Husseini's release which - among other things - carried the following statement:
“We call the Palestinian authority to release immediately Walid Husayin from prison. The right to freedom of speech is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”
It does not seem necessary to add something to this statement. Or should I add that the cases of Navib, Ahmad, Kareem, Tal and Waleed demonstrate to what extend the freedom of speech is trampled upon in many Middle Eastern countries and how necessary it is that some brave people take it upon themselves to blog and to fight for more breathing space. The same goes for those bloggers who attack (social) injustice or lack of democracy, like - to name just one recent example - the Bahraini blogger Ali Abduleman. They defend freedoms, we have to defend thèm.   

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