Iran Threatens Significant Punishment of Mobile, Web Users

Iranian government characterizes the murder of their own people in the streets as "mercy:" 

SANA, Yemen — Iran’s national police chief issued a stark warning to the country’s opposition on Friday, saying that the era of “mercy” was over and that the authorities would begin cracking down more harshly not only on street protests but also on anyone who used cellphones and e-mail messages to publicize them.

The opposition has relied heavily on e-mail, cellphones and the Internet to organize protests ever since the disputed June 12 presidential election, which set off the worst domestic unrest in decades. The government has shut down opposition newspapers and blocked Web sites, and has grown increasingly frustrated with the protesters’ continuing ability to elude its restraints.

The police chief, Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, said at a news conference on Friday that those who used e-mail and cellphones to organize protests would be punished even more severely than the protesters themselves.

“After all the evidence we saw on Ashura, our tolerance has come to an end, and both the police force and the judiciary will be confronting them with full force,” Mr. Ahmadi Moghaddam said, according to Iran’s semiofficial news service ILNA.

More here.  Be interesting to see how Secretary Clinton will address this, and the China Google attack, in her speech this Thursday on Internet freedom.

Anticipating the Coming Debate Over Foreign and Security Policy

When Washington returns in 2010 we will have a new issue to challenge the effective management of an already incredibly crowded agenda - a review of our intelligence, homeland security and counter-terrorism strategies and performance in the aftermath of the Nigerian-who-got-through. 

The coming debate could radically impact Washington's agenda in 2010. Given that these issues touch on a wide range of Congressional committees and areas of the Administration, and that there is a wide-held belief in DC that the reforms made during the Bush era were not completely effective or well done, it is going to be hard to control and contain the debate once it begins.   That there are so many different Congressional committees involved in this debate is itself a sign of the lack of coherence of the new counter-terrorism regime ushered in during the Bush era, from the DNI to DHS itself. 

The truth is that it may be time for the country to have a more systematic, thoughtful discussion about how to best deal with the global threat of terrorism, the nature of terrorism itself and how the two wars we are already fighting fit into our overall global national security strategy.  Over the last few days you could feel the American people saying - Nigeria? Yemen? Is there no end to this? How does all this relate to what is happening in Iran, Pakistan, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan? It has been almost a decade now, with trillions spent, ten of thousands of American causalties, vast new bureaucracies built, a new significant escalation in Afghanistan, extraordinary opportunity costs - and what have we accomplished? Are we safer? What can we do better?  These are reasonable questions for the American people to ask.

If this debate lasts for months - which it could - it may very well knock other important priorities off the legislative calendar this year, a calendar that was already in danger of being incredibly overloaded.  Could we end up spending the coming year finishing health care, and having long and significant debates our economic and security policies, pushing a whole array of other important - but less important issues - off the agenda?

Does all this seem like an overreaction to a lone man who got through Fortress America? Perhaps, but that the vast new intelligence appartus built over the past decade didn't put some now clearly reasonable pieces together to stop a threat, and the attack demonstrated how the global jihadi network has spread beyond the places we are already significantly engaged abroad, has raised some critical issues which now seem inevitably headed towards a big, sustained and perhaps overdue conversation. 

Rather than fighting the consolidation of the 2010 agenda it may be in the interest of the governing party to embrace it, and not look defensive, as if they have other things they would rather be talking about.   Peace and prosperity drive most elections in the US, and 2010 may end up being no different.  The Republicans are already jumping on the Christmas Day attempt, and will no doubt spend the year ahead trying to reorient the national discussion to an area - national security - they feel will advantageous for them.  But given their actual record in the decade just past, and the extraordinary mess they left for others to clean up, the Republicans may rue the day the debate became about national security, for there is no way to have this debate without talking about the epic foreign policy and security failures of the Bush era, something they simply cannot disown.

So rather than wishing this new issue environment away, the President and the Democrats might decide rather to make it their own, and spend their political year making their case for how they hope to bring peace and prosperity to a country desperately seeking it.   They can take on the anarchronistic and disproven arguments of the conservatives head on, defining their vision and plans, and making very clear, where, on the two most important issues facing the nation, it is exactly they want to take us.  Not at all an unreasonable thing for the American people to ask of the governing party in a time of great transition and national challenge.

Happy New Year all. 

And a new year it will be.

Mon PM Update: On his Mother Jones blog David Corn chews over this essay a bit, and provides some thoughts of his own.

The Iranian Uprising Escalates

As hard as it to get information out of Iran (no foreign reporting is allowed), it is now very clear that something very significant has happened and is in the process of happening there today.  The opposition to one of the worst governments of the modern era is spreading, growing more organic, more national, and from what we saw today even more courageous and brave. 

A NY Times's blog, The Lede, has incredible accounts today of both the insanity of the government itself, and brutal reports from the streets of Tehran and other cities. 

The Obama Administration issued the following statement in response to the widespread murdering of every day Iranians by their own government:

We strongly condemn the violent and unjust suppression of civilians in Iran seeking to exercise their universal rights.  Hope and history are on the side of those who peacefully seek their universal rights, and so is the United States.  Governing through fear and violence is never just, and as President Obama said in Oslo - it is telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation

More soon. 

Update 830pm Mountain Time: Despite the extraordinary steps the Iranian government has taken in recent months to contain the information flow from inside Iran to the rest of the world, we - all of us - are able to watch graphic scenes of Iranian government repression in almost real time.  The people of Iran have through the year desperately attempted to share these images and accounts using the modern tools available to them - mobile devices, facebook, twitter, youtube and email.  That we are able to see so much despite the government's efforts should be a powerful warning to other repressive regimes that there is no going back now in this digital age.  These new tools are giving regular people just too much power. Repression has a powerful new opponent, one of the most powerful it has ever had - the ubiquitous global communications network that really is, truly, always on and increasingly everywhere.

Consider this new passage from The Lede:

The Lede will continue to follow events in Iran and sift through the evidence of protests and clashes posted on the Web in the days ahead. The Iranian journalist and blogger Omid Habibinia notes that this final video we will embed today appears to show a Basij militia building in Tehran burning on Sunday at or near the country’s state-run oil company. The fact that more than half a dozen people can be seen in this clip recording the incident suggests that we will continue to have a lot of material to sort through.

This is why in the midst of the news flowing out of Iran today I tweeted (simonwdc if you want to follow):

Increasingly feels like the great ideological battles of our coming century will be less left vs right, and more open vs closed.

Given all that has happened in the Middle East in recent years, and the role Iran has played, what is unfolding in the streets of Iran may be the most important set of political events taking place any where in the world today.  The global legitimacy of the leaders and institutions in power are being destroyed now, weakening Iran's hand in the nuclear negotiations taking place now, for sure, but also, eventually, weakening the hand of their political allies in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and other countries in the region.

But it is also a powerful warning to the repressive regimes in the region - US allied or not - that the will of their own people can no longer be dismissed as before.  For a region so despotic these events - cries of death to the current elected President - must be both thrilling for champions of democracy, and terrifying to its opponents.

So given all this, should our President, on vacation, getting a very needed rest, do more? is the statement released today, stronger than similar statements released earlier this year, enough?  What else could be done? Should be done? Can the free nations of the world do more than suggest that we are watching?  The answer, I think, has much more significance than just the events unfolding in Iran now.  It will help lay the intellectual predicate of what we will come to know as the Obama foreign policy doctrine in the coming years.

I weighed in on all this in quite a lengthy essay back when the Iranian Uprising began in earnest. 

I can't stop watching the images coming from Iran, and feel myself wanting to do much more than blog and write.  I end by wishing the people of Iran, potentially sacrificing so much in the face of such a horribly dangerous and repressive government, well in their inspiring struggles in the days ahead.  My thoughts, prayers and wishes are with you.

Tues Afternoon Update: Many news agencies have reported the arrest of Iranian opposition leaders today, and the Lede has more videos of the clashes yesterday.   At his press conference this morning, the President said this about what was happening in Iran:

The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in tensions, injuries and even death.

For months the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights.  Each time they have done so they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days.  And each time that has happened the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people, who are a part of Iran's great and enduring civilization.

What's taking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country -- it's about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves.  And the decision of Iran's leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away.  As I said in Oslo, it's telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.

Along with all free nations the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights.  We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people.  We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran.  We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there.  And I'm confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.

Tues PM Update - The NY Times is reporting that the Iranian government has lashed out at the West, for, I guess, paying attention to its murdering and jailing of its own people. 

Should Access to Mobile Networks Be a Universal Right?

A few days ago my friend Alec Ross sent around a link to this statement from State: 

The United States welcomes the United Nations’ final passage of the resolution calling upon the Government of Iran to respect its human rights obligations fully. In passing this resolution, the international community has demonstrated once again its deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran and the government’s failure to uphold its obligations under its own constitution and international human rights law.

The resolution, first adopted last month by the UN Third Committee, expresses deep concern over the brutal response of Iranian authorities to peaceful demonstrations in the wake of the June 12 election. It calls on the Government of Iran to abolish torture and arbitrary imprisonment, as well as any executions carried out without due process of law. Furthermore, it calls for the end of execution of minors, as well as the use of stoning as a means of execution. The resolution also calls on Iran to release political prisoners, including those detained following the June election. Finally, the resolution calls on Iran to cooperate fully with and admit entry to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance.

Those in Iran who are trying to exercise their universal rights should know that their voices are being heard.

We should all be pleased the International Community is taking the brutality of the Iranian regime so seriously.  But I kept wondering, throughout this statement, should we putting access to mobile networks in as one of those rights denied by a repressive regime? Iran has repeatedly, and comprehensively, shut down access by regular people to their own mobile devices throughout this recent government crackdown against dissent. 

For some this may sound a little too techie.  But is it? If increasingly the way you connect to your friends, your family, the outside world, the way you get your information, news, conduct commerce, learn, the place you store your photos, your family videos, your messages from your son from school all live on these networks why should the government be able to shut them down?  Is arbitrary imprisonment of a few people really that much more malevolent than the arbitrary, capricious closing down of mobile devices for millions of people?

Obama has floated the idea of access to the global communications network as being a universal human right.  Should it be? 

Would love your thoughts on this one.

News from Iran, Honduras Tonight

Important news breaking late tonight. 

From Iran the new Vice President bows to the Supreme Leader and steps down.  In Honduras Zelaya re-enteres the country, which Secretary Clinton describes as "reckless."

Interesting times these are.

The Times Reports on Iran Today

The remarkable continues to unfold in Iran:

As thousands of opposition protesters chanted in the streets of Tehran on Friday, the former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani assailed the government’s handling of the post-election unrest, saying it had lost the trust of many Iranians and calling for the release of hundreds of protesters and democracy advocates arrested in recent weeks.

Mr. Rafsanjani, speaking to a vast crowd at Tehran University that included the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi and many of his supporters, called for unity and reconciliation in his prayer sermon. But he also said doubts about the election “are now consuming us” and called for a new spirit of compromise between the opposition and the government.

Outside the university’s prayer hall, police officers used tear gas and truncheons to disperse large crowds of protesters chanting anti-government slogans, and there were reports of at least 15 arrests. It was the largest street gathering by opposition supporters in weeks, witnesses said.

Mr. Rafsanjani, a powerful insider who supported Mr. Moussavi’s campaign, did not directly question the election results, which have been blessed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But he made clear that he believed Mr. Khamenei, who has blamed foreign powers for the unrest and called for an end to protests, should take a more conciliatory stance. Calling the election aftermath a “crisis,” Mr. Rafsanjani urged that restrictions on the press and on free speech be removed, in addition to the freeing of those detained since the election.

Mr. Rafsanjani also criticized the Guardian Council, a powerful supervisory body that is loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei and that looked into possible election fraud, saying it did not make the best use of the time the supreme leader gave it to investigate.

“A large group” of Iranians say they have doubts about the election, Mr. Rafsanjani said. “We should work to address these doubts.”

He said he had discussed a possible solution with members of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, two powerful state institutions he heads. He said his proposed solution was based on two principles: that everything must be done within a legal framework, and that there must be a free and open debate.

Mr. Rafsanjani’s proposal was an implicit rebuke to Ayatollah Khamenei, who tried to close the door on the post-election turmoil in his own Friday Prayer speech in the same hall three weeks ago. Ayatollah Khamenei has long presented himself as a neutral arbiter who sits above Iran’s political disputes, but many Iranians say his support for Mr. Ahmadinejad has made the supreme leader seem a more partisan figure.

In that sense, Mr. Rafsanjani, a consummate pragmatist and bitter rival of Mr. Ahmadinejad, appeared to be reclaiming a central role as a mediating figure in the top of the Iranian power structure.

Before he spoke, one witness said, large numbers of police officers blocked access to the university and fired tear gas into a crowd. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters sat in the streets about a mile back from the campus, cheering parts of Mr. Rafsanjani’s speech, heard over loudspeakers. Many women in the crowd did not wear the covering customary at prayers, the witness said.

One of the people arrested was Shadi Sadr, a prominent lawyer and activist, who was bundled into a car and beaten with batons by plainclothes security officers, Amnesty International and a witness said. Ms. Sadr managed to escape briefly but was recaptured and driven to an undisclosed destination, Amnesty said. Government militiamen beat some protesters after the tear gas was fired, and people started marching onto the streets, the witness said.

“People were silent and civilized, but they started demonstrating after the police shot tear gas,” the witness said. “It turned into another bloody scene. There were so many forces out there holding, and it was clear that they wanted to crush people again. There were so many people and so many forces that the protests spread to streets several miles away from the university.”

A Passage To Help Set the Table for Our Event Today

For those planning on attending or watching our event today, I offer up this passage to help set the stage for our conversation:

A single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and satellite technology, is rapidly tying the world's people together as never before. The core premise of this paper is that the emergence of this network is one of the seminal events of the early 21st century. Increasingly, the world's commerce, finance, communications, media and information are flowing through this network. Half of the world's 6 billion people are now connected to this network, many through powerful and inexpensive mobile phones. Each year more of the world's people become connected to the network, its bandwidth increases, and its use becomes more integrated into all that we do.

Connectivity to this network, and the ability to master it once on, has become an essential part of life in the 21st century, and a key to opportunity, success and fulfillment for the people of the world.

We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world's people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring. Bringing this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years.

This comes from a paper Alec Ross and I wrote in 2007, A Laptop in Every Backpack, and still, I believe, speaks to the remarkable moment in history we are all watching unfold.

Join Us at Noon Today for Nico Pitney and Gavin Newsom's Media Team

Hope you will join us either at the NDN office or over the web for what is going to be one of our more interesting events of the year - a discussion with three people on the frontlines of the global media revolution.  Eric Jaye and Theo Yedinsky will be talking about the wildly innovative ways the Gavin Newsom for Governor campaign is currently using new media, particularly twitter.  They will be followed by Nico Pitney, of the Huffington Post, who has been at the very center of reporting on, and interpreting the extraordinary events in Iran these past few weeks.  

To learn more or to rsvp visit here, and I hope to see you later today! It is going to one of our better events of the year.

The Global Media Revolution: Don't Forget About Television

Tomorrow NDN hosts an intriguing  discussion, on Twitter, Iran, and More: Impressions from the Front Lines of the Global Media Revolution. Being 3000 and some miles away, I can’t come. So I thought I’d throw a thought across; which is not to forget about television, still the heart of most of the world's media revolt.

Twitter's final impact on Iran’s election protests remains in dispute. Andrew Sullivan first talked it up about a month ago. Various academics, including Harvard's John Palfrey, have since gently talked it down again, pointing out that the service has limitations as a truly revolutionary technology: its format is too brief to be meaningful, it's too easily censored (when the regime wakes up to its existence), and it's only used by a tiny minority. Twitter probably played some part in organising the protests: 2,024,166 tweets in 18 days surely had an effect, even if most came from outside Iran. But it became the story because of its novelty, not its utility—it was a technology many people in the west had only just heard of—and became it, in turn, was a useful way of telling the revolt's story.

In one sense this didn't matter. Increasing access to free media is an important part of the broader story of "the rise of the rest" which will play as background music throughout Obama's presidency. Twitter told that story in the context of Iran. But a number of dangers still lurk. The most obvious is that we associate new media with freedoms. An obvious counter-example over the last week has come from China, following last week's uighur riots. The west worries the Uighurs are unjustly treated, but so i'm told even when one takes into account that truly liberal voices aren't encouraged, the vast majority of China's online voices thinks the government hasn't punished the Uighurs enough. Free expression tends to go hand in hand with political freedom, but it's only a general rule.

Just as dangerous would be to expect a new technology, like Twitter, to accompany along with each protest and revolt. Often the most important democratic technologies, and the ones that the west can do most to spread, are the most obvious. Take Pakistan, which I visited a few months back. The country has dropped off the agenda a bit for the last month, pushed off first by Iran, then China, then Obama's Russia visit, and now by fighting in Afghanistan. But it remains America's geo-strategic priority. And the opinions of its people — do they support the Taliban, how critical they are of the United States, how angry they are about the latest drone strikes — will likely be more important to US foreign policy over the next 12 months than any other single population on earth.

Pakistan doesn't seem to have taken to Twitter. The army's violent retaking of the Swat valley last month went entirely uninterrupted by short messages, or news stories with blue birds. And while its blogging community has some influence, its suffers many of the limitations as newspapers in a country where only half the population can read, and many fewer have internet access. But what Pakistan does have is television; a massive explosion in domestic television channels, going from only 1 station about a decade ago to more than 100 today.

The channels are free of government control, increasingly professional, and hugely politically influential. Most are run in Pakistan (although some are based in Dubai), but they broadcast to Pakistanis in the US, and the UK. They have broken social taboos on everything from religious talk shows, to dating and marriage—while also playing a big role in recent pro-democracy protests. Without anyone really noticing in the west these channels (and their largely liberal, western-educated owners) have been influential in pushing Pakistan public opinion against the Taliban over the last couple of months. And most Pakistanis watch TV news - in the tens of millions. It's an old technology, but it's by far the most important way of expressing the aspirations of Pakistan's people. With luck, someone might even Twitter about it during tomorrow's discussion.

The G8 Condemn Iran, the Mullahs Harden

From the NYTimes:

TEHRAN — Despite new criticism from President Obama, the Iranian authorities showed no sign Friday of bending to domestic or foreign pressure, saying that the disputed presidential vote on June 12 was the “healthiest” in three decades.

The uncompromising words emerged as the Group of Eight countries, including the United States, fired a fresh broadside Friday, saying they “deplored” the post-election violence and demanding that the “the will of the Iranian people is reflected in the electoral process.”

In Washington, President Obama accused Tehran of violating “universal norms, international norms,” and saying that the bravery of the Iranian people is “a testament to their enduring pursuit of justice.”

“The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous,” the president said, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel by his side. “And despite the government’s efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it, and we condemn it.”

The president also conceded that the crackdown would complicate his plans to have a dialogue with Tehran, saying: “There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks.”

Chancellor Merkel, too, was harshly critical of the Iranian leadership, declaring in German that Iranians should be able to demonstrate peacefully and to have their votes count. “The rights of human beings, of individuals, of citizens are indivisible the world over and also apply, therefore, to the Iranian people,” she said.

But there seemed little likelihood that the Iranian authorities would be swayed by the harsh words, as a senior cleric called for demonstrators to be punished “ruthlessly and savagely.”

At Friday prayers at Tehran University, a senior cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, referred to the demonstrators as rioters and declared, “I want the judiciary to punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson.”

Reuters quoted him as saying that demonstrators should be tried for waging war against God. The punishment for such offenses under Islamic law is death, Reuters said.

The cleric’s remarks represented a significant hardening of official rhetoric as the authorities confronted the biggest political challenge since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Yet. because Ayatollah Khatami is not regarded as a high-profile figure, it was not clear how much weight his words carried.

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