Iran Cracks Down On Foreign Journalists

Supporters of Iran's defeated presidential candidate are keeping up pressure with new protests. Babak Rahimi, a professor of Iranian and Islamic studies at the University of California, San Diego, talks from Tehran with Steve Inskeep about what's been going on in the Iranian capital since demonstrations broke out.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Iran's government is cracking down on the Internet today, in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election. And it's also trying to control foreign journalists, revoking press credentials and ordering them off the street. Watching all this unfold is Babak Rahimi, a professor of Iranian and Islamic studies at the University of California, San Diego. He's been in Iran since March, working on a book about the development of the Internet there. Welcome to the program Sir.

Professor BABAK RAHIMI (Iranian and Islamic Studies, University of California): Thank you.

INSKEEP: What sort of news, or what sources of news, are available if you're in Tehran right now?

Prof. RAHIMI: Well, quite honestly, in the daytime, the Internet, satellite TV -many of these things are available to the public. But somehow, around 3 p.m., 4 p.m., everything almost gets shut down, including telephone lines. So you could see what the state is doing. They're trying to definitely not get the information get out of the country, especially through Internet, where a lot of people actually posting their videos and pictures online and sending it to Voice of America or BBC Persia, where a number of Iranians, both inside the country and outside of the country, are actually seeing the demonstrations unfold in the country.

INSKEEP: We have heard that text messaging was critical to the organization of the reformist or opposition groups in the last several weeks, really, but I'd like a little more detail of that. How important has the Internet been in organizing an opposition here?

Prof. RAHIMI: Oh, huge. Just days before the election, political rallies were mostly organized through SMS or text messaging or Facebook. However, after the election, things have slowed down. So I do need to let you know that the state still is aware of the impact of the Internet, and they're trying to react and stifle it in many ways. But again, the pro-Mousavi supporters are finding ways to counterattack again. So now there are new, anti-filtering softwares that are being spread by the Mousavi supporters. They're hacking in, into the Facebook and they're still continuing to do their political activism online.

INSKEEP: So when you go out in the streets, when you get a sense of things, does it feel like the opposition is building momentum in spite of the efforts to crack down?

Prof. RAHIMI: Well, the momentum is something that goes on and off. I mean, in daytime, you know, you could still see the remains and the traces of the nights and the days before where, you know, people are just destroying buses and traffic signs. But towards the end of the night or in the afternoon, you could definitely feel it. I mean, people, you know, are walking around the streets, they're talking about politics. They're not here basically accepting the status quo. They want something to change, and you could definitely feel the atmosphere here - especially at 9 or 10 p.m., where people go on the rooftops and start shouting anti-Ahmadinejad slogans. You know, again, I'm reminded of the heydays of the 1979 Revolution, when I was a boy here in Iran. It definitely brings back a lot of memories.

INSKEEP: How old were you then in 1979?

Prof. RAHIMI: I was actually, I believe, 7 years old.

INSKEEP: Seven years old, and you remember people shouting from the rooftops then.

Prof. RAHIMI: Absolutely. It was one of those things that's still very much imprinted in my memory.

INSKEEP: I don't want to generalize or ask you to generalize about 14 million people in Tehran, but it sounds like you do not think a lot of people are afraid of the regime at this point.

Prof. RAHIMI: I mean, what the elections - this election introduced was a kind of in-your-face politics. I mean, the 1990s and early 2000 politics of hide-and-seek is over. I mean, this is a new kind of politics in Iran we're witnessing. It's a politics that look, I want my rights now, and that if you don't give it to me, these are the kind of things I'm going to do. My future's on line. Now I'm going to do my best to get my future. And I think the state realizes this and that's why they have backed away. And the supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini recently has called for investigation into the electoral fraud which, you know, is, of course, a nice way of making the state look accountable. But in reality they're just, quite frankly, are kind of worried that this is going to go out of hand.

INSKEEP: Although you have to wonder - because people know the history of say, Tiananmen Square, where there were demonstrations, student demonstrations in 1989 in China, and they went on for quite some time. It was amazing, and then they were violently repressed. You have to wonder if that moment is coming.

Prof. RAHIMI: And that's what is worrying many people in Iran. And it all depends on how the oppositional movement, and also the leader, especially Mir-Hossein Mousavi, will try to negotiate a deal with the state. But right now, the atmosphere in Tehran is definitely one of rebellion, and it just - we need to see what's going to happen in the next few days.

INSKEEP: Babak Rahimi is a professor of Iranian and Islamic studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is in Tehran right now. He's been there for months working on a book about the Internet and has witnessed the events of the last several days. Thanks very much.

Prof. RAHIMI: I appreciate it, thank you.

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