Bloggers rally for jailed Iranians

Cyber-journals asked to devote Tuesday to two Iranians said to have been jailed for reporting on free-speech issues.

Ed Frauenheim Former Staff Writer, News
Ed Frauenheim covers employment trends, specializing in outsourcing, training and pay issues.
Ed Frauenheim
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An online protest Tuesday of Iran's crackdown against bloggers made an impact--even on Iranian officials.

So says a leader of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, the group that organized the effort to decry the jailings of Iranian bloggers Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad.

Reuters on Tuesday reported that Sigarchi was jailed for 14 years on charges ranging from espionage to insulting the country's leaders, a move probably linked in part to the timing of the protest, said Curt Hopkins, the committee's director. "I think there's got to be some connection," Hopkins said.

A message left with the Iranian mission to the United Nations was not immediately returned.

Hopkins' group--whose deputy director is Ellen Simonetti, the former Delta Air Lines flight attendant fired over photos of herself in uniform that she posted on her blog--asked those who maintain Web logs to call attention Tuesday to the plight of Iranian bloggers through posting banner ads and contacting government officials.

Some notable members of the blogging community took up the cause. They included Jeff Jarvis, who runs the BuzzMachine site, and Glenn Reynolds, who's behind Instapundit.

Hopkins said the response was just as impressive around the world. Hits on the committee site jumped from a daily average of about 500 to about 3,000 just during the Asian daytime hours. "It's been going like gangbusters," he said. "We've had people from Brunei and Saudi Arabia, and Japan and Russia."

According to Reuters, Sigarchi is a newspaper editor and blogger who was arrested last month. A member of the Center for Defense of Human Rights in Tehran told Reuters that the charges against him are political and journalistic. According to the group Reporters Without Borders, Sigarchi was arrested for keeping a banned blog called Panhjareh Eltehab (The Window of Anxiety), in which he reported the arrests of cyber-journalists and bloggers.

Reporters Without Borders said Saminejad was first arrested in November for reporting the arrests of three fellow bloggers on his former blog, http://man-namanam.blogspot.com. While detained, his blog address was transferred to the blog of a group of hackers linked to the Iranian radical Islamist movement Hezbollah, the group said. Saminejad was freed on bail in January and relaunched his blog using a new address, according to Reporters Without Borders. He was reimprisoned on Feb. 12, when a judge doubled the bail, the group said.

Earlier this month, Reporters Without Borders said "Iran was undergoing the Middle East's biggest-ever crackdown on online free expression."

Blogging has emerged in the past year or so as a powerful tool to make a difference in society. Hopkins said his group's next step may go beyond simply raising awareness about free-speech issues. The organization may seek to set up special server computers that would make it harder for a government to crack down on those speaking through blogs.