The C.R.I.M.E. Report

ISSUE #4 CONTENTS:


SPOTLIGHT CASES:

Facebook Faces Censorship in Iran

As millions of students around the world return to campus, most look forward to re-connecting with classmates via the popular Facebook.com networking site. But if the regime in Iran has its way, Iranian students will be blocked from joining.

Facebook.com has become the definitive online networking site for students, with personal pages linking friends and classmates. The site increasingly defines campus life in America and abroad, enabling people to socialize, organize, and form communities.

But Iran’s censors block the most popular online networking sites, fearing that virtual organizing could help opposition movements. So if you are a student in Iran, your web browser cannot access Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and popular blogging sites like PersianBlog. Still, enterprising Iranians have figured out ways around the web filters and access various networking sites via web proxies.

One young woman – who accesses Facebook.com via a proxy server – explains the power of the site: “In these networks you can express yourself however you like…Whereas outside your home in the streets it is necessary to present yourself in such a way that nobody will hassle you.” 

One sign of successful student networking: there is now a Facebook group dedicated to ending Internet censorship in Iran.



Student Activists Plan Solidarity Network at HAMSA Workshop

As student organizers in the Middle East struggle to end civil rights repression, young American activists are asking how they can help. Just before the start of the new school year, a group of student and veteran activists gathered at a HAMSA-organized seminar to develop an effective solidarity strategy.

The workshop, held in Washington, DC, featured a group of activists from diverse religious backgrounds and political outlooks who united for a common purpose. The goal: to build a strategic infrastructure for solidarity campaigns to support young Middle Eastern activists facing persecution.

“We need a mechanism to mobilize quickly and effectively,” explained Nasser Weddady, HAMSA Outreach Director. “So we brought together a group of talented students to plan a pro-active response.”

Participants faced a simulated crisis of a young blogger arrested in Tunisia and worked in teams to form a coordinated emergency solidarity campaign. Lessons from that exercise were then compiled into an action plan to be used for future crises.

“Despite our different views and backgrounds, we worked really well as a team,” observed one student participant. “We discussed important human rights challenges and were passionate about the task at hand. We fed off each other’s energy and perspective, generating new ideas for making an effective support network.”



Campus Do’s and Don’ts: Student Life at Syrian Universities

On the campus of the state-run Damascus University, a large billboard features President Bashar Assad next to the slogan: “I believe in Syria.” It’s a clear message to students about what they should believe in – a message reinforced by restrictions on activities that other students around the world take for granted.

Want to write a political column for the school newspaper? Want to bring a speaker to campus? Want to start a new student organization? Quick answer: You need the government’s approval.

The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad’s Ba’ath Party effectively authorizes all campus activity. By law, any student activity must be cleared by the Student Union, which is dominated by Ba’ath Party members. The head of the union actually has a seat in parliament. Via a centralized bureaucracy and informant network, student activity on campus is regulated.

Several former Syrian students explained to the CRIME Report that no one is allowed to criticize the president, the intelligence services, or even the concept of Arab unity. According to the students, the president’s portrait is displayed in classrooms and appears on the cover of some textbooks.

“No one has ever dared to protest because they fear the repercussions,” noted one student. “The only protests are in support of the current leadership.”

Another student described an incident when two students on campus began distributing Islamist pamphlets. “This was the most daring act I ever saw,” the student recalled. “Other students were running away, trying to avoid any contact. A few days later, the two students disappeared from the dorms and were never seen again.”

 

REJECTION LETTER:
Tunisian Blogger Challenges School Ban
Officials at Ariana University in Tunisia have prevented student Soufiane Chourabi from registering for his final semester of classes. Chourabi, 25, is a blogger and contributor to opposition newspapers and Internet forums. As punishment for his opinions and affiliations, the state-run Ariana University has rejected his registration. But Chourabi is responding with a novel protest: issuing an online video appeal to university officials and launching a petition for re-admittance. Fellow blogger-activists from the region are signing on. Follow the cyber-protest (in Arabic) via Chourabi's blog.

QUIZ: How many days in jail?
Last Tuesday, Iranian-American academic, Haleh Esfandiari, was at least released on bail from Tehran’s Evin Prison. (A HAMSA-led solidarity letter-writing campaign to Free Haleh recruited over 7,600 participants.) While Haleh’s detention appears to be over, how many days did she spend in solitary confinement at Evin Prison: 23, 68, or 105?

BECOME A PARTNER IN CRIME:
Here is a list of four quick ways you contribute to the Middle East civil rights movement: