Iran's bloggers get caught in crossfire of 'war on terror'
US effort to silence communications from the 'axis of evil' may stem liberal expression as well.
Iran's dissenting and liberal voices, reeling from a crackdown in cyberspace by their country's old guard, now worry about a new challenge from an unexpected quarter: America.Skip to next paragraph
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The alarm sounded when the online news site Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) said that The Planet, a leading international Web-hosting firm based in Dallas, abruptly terminated its contract. Now, other Iranian websites that rely on US Webservers are bracing for similar action.
The independent voices may be getting caught up in a larger battle, some analysts argue. The shutdown, they say, may be collateral damage from "war on terror" efforts to silence Internet communications from the "axis of evil."
The Internet has become the last refuge for liberal Iranian journalists and independent bloggers (who publish Weblogs, or blogs) since the hard-line judiciary in Tehran has closed scores of reformist publications over the past four years.
Some Iranian bloggers argue that it suits Tehran's hard-liners, as well as hawks in Washington, to silence the Iranian public on the international scene, enabling both to manipulate the reality of Iran to advance their agendas.
But Web-hosting firms, which say they cannot screen all the content posted on their expansive networks, face embarrassment if it is discovered they have inadvertently provided service to terror groups that purchase space through middlemen. To play it safe, some may view any business from Iran, which is in President Bush's 'axis of evil," is more trouble than it's worth.
Aaron Weisburd, of Carbondale, Ill., who tracks down websites affiliated with Islamic terror groups for his organization, Internet Haganah, suspects The Planet may just be "trigger happy" at the moment following recent reports in the Dallas media. Web servers operated by The Planet were said to have hosted some Al Qaeda-affiliated sites whose owners had bought space through middlemen.
A day after a story aired on The Planet in November on the Dallas CBS affiliate station, two Al Qaeda websites and two for Hamas were no longer available. The sites were located by Mr. Weisburd, who says if anything the US authorities actually pressure providers to keep suspect sites online so they can be monitored - an approach he criticizes strongly.
But, Weisburd adds, it would be "unjust" if dissident Iranians could not get hosting in the US. "The US is the one country where Iranian bloggers ought to be able to freely operate a website," he says. The elegant solution, he continues, "would be for the US to explicitly allow Iranian dissidents to operate their sites in the US, even if that means granting them an exception to the rules regarding the transfer of funds."
Other companies merely follow the US ban on American companies engaging in business with countries that the US State Department has designated sponsors of terrorism. GoDaddy.com, a leader in domain registration, says on its site that "due to US government policies" it actively blocks Iran and six other countries on the terrorism list.
Some Iranian bloggers say it's unclear whether The Planet has terminated all accounts identified as Iranian, or was acting only against those which had violated the terms of their agreements by, for instance, not paying their bill.