Hassan Rouhani raises Iranian hopes for free expression


Iranians stormed the streets in celebration when his victory was announced, and this giddy optimism also permeated social media.

In the days after the election, there was an opening up of the national media, which has been steadily strangled over the past 8 years, as reporters and journalists tested the new waters to measure where the new limits of censorship have been set.

On July 23 the Iranian Students’ News Association announced Rouhani’s government may lift the filter from Facebook and other social networks, but after going viral, the article was deleted without explanation.

Iranians on social networks have started a campaign called “Rouhani, Mochakerim” [Rouhani, Thank You], a platform on which they seem to thank the new president for everything good in their everyday lives. One said, “I think Facebook needs to have a ‘Thank You Rouhani’ button” for Iranians”. Another quipped, “My phone’s had more battery life since Rouhani won the elections. Thanks Rouhani!”

Blogger Younes is very optimistic about Rouhani and hopes Iran’s relationship with other countries will be improved over the next four years. Younes described how Ahmadinejad’s foreign policies united the world against Iran. He pointed out that the invitations to Rouhani’s inauguration were sent to world leaders signalling that Iran is ready to change its position and open up dialogue with the outside.

Optimists aside, there are also those who are unsure whether Rouhani will be able to keep his promises. Twitter user thebrightriver has criticised Rouhani for the ministries he has proposed to the Parliament: “Rouhani has promised that he will create the Ministry for Women, but he hasn’t even chosen one woman as a minister! It’s good I didn’t vote otherwise I’d owe one to my conscience”.

Mohammad Hosseini Nejad argues Rouhani is not a magician, that radicalism is the biggest threat to his ability to fulfil his promises, and that his policies will only be implemented if all of the opposition factions join together to support him.

Rouhani’s victory has also created space for Iranians to publicly satirise Ahmadinejad. On Friday, Iranian Twitter users ridiculed Ahmadinejad’s government using the #AhmadiByeBye hashtag, and sent an invitation to social media users to attend Ahmadinejad’s Goodbye Party on Saturday, 3 August 2013.


Farzad said, “Ahmadinejad has claimed that he fought economic corruption, but everyone connected with him was involved in the biggest embezzlement in Iran’s history. #AhmadiByeBye” Hooman agreed, “These 8 years have shown me how just one mistake can destroy life of an entire generation. #AhmadiByeBye”.

While the atmosphere, at least on social media, is one of optimism, Rouhani’s road ahead is tough. For the next four years he will battle against the supreme leader and the Parliament to implement some of his more ambitious promises. Despite being a figurehead for Iran when it comes to the country’s public relations, the president has relatively limited power and will struggle to liberalise the country.

This article was reported by Bronwen Robertson and Amin Sabeti of Small Media. Small Media has collaborated with the Munk School on launching ‘Rouhani Meter’, where Rouhani’s policies will be tracked across the first 100 days of his candidacy and beyond.

Shutting down culture in Iran

In recent weeks, Iran has clamped down on cultural institutions, including officially revoking the license of 27-year old publishing house Cheshmeh Publications, and shutting down the country’s independently-run House of Cinema. Here is a look at Iran’s latest restrictions on culture from Small Media, a London-based organisation that develops technology to promote the flow of information in closed societies.

Circumventing censorship via small media

Amidst the hype over “Twitter revolutions”, have we forgotten the crucial role played by small media? To examine these crucial organising tools, the Small Media Initiative is partnering with Index on Censorship to create the Small Media Symposium 2011. Klara Chlupata reports

A quick glance at the news seems to suggest that we are living in the digital age of Twitter revolutions. In August 2010, Wired published an article entitled From Samizdat to Twitter: How Technology is Making Censorship Irrelevant. But is it?

The role played by social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in political protests and “revolutions” continues to be passionately debated by academics, activists, politicians and pundits. While there are plenty of examples of creative new politics, recent protests in Burma, China, Iran and Egypt remind us that governments can simply shut communication down. The question then becomes: where do we go after moving from samizdat to Twitter? What alternative channels and technologies of communication can facilitate the flow of information when authoritarian regimes flick the kill switch? What alternative political practices can we invent to circumscribe state repression?

Recent events in Egypt suggest that alternatives can be as low-tech as paper leaflets with practical and tactical advice or as high-tech as the speak-to-tweet application that lets individuals dial a phone number and leave (or listen to) a message translated to text on a Twitter page.

When authoritarian regimes can easily disrupt communication channels to restrict the free flow of information and to control the narrative, small media can be useful in providing alternative means of mass communication. These tools are given many titles: small media, alternative media, participatory media and social movement media. This will be the focus of the Small Media Symposium, which will take place in London on 8-9 April 2011. The symposium will gather together academics, activists and media developers to discuss small media theory, practice and innovation.

The event will be held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and will be open to the public on 8 April. On 9 April, there will be a series of closed-door workshops.

Contributors are invited to submit their proposals on a wide range of topics and approaches related to small media. Research, practical experience, insights, product demonstrations, case studies, work-in-progress, posters, conceptual papers and proposals for workshop themes are all welcome. The deadline for submission of an abstract (400 – 600 words) is 10 March 2011. Abstracts can be submitted to contact[at]smallmediainitiative.com.

Klara Chlupata is curator at Index on Censorship and the primary organiser of the Small Media Symposium 2011