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21 December 2009

“Today, censorship cannot hide the truth”

Upsurge of citizen journalism in Iran as funeral of dissident cleric turns into opposition protest

By Samira Shackle

Above: the scene in Qom

Days after the Twitter hacking by a group styling itself the “Iranian Cyber Army” comes another outbreak of citizen journalism from Iran’s opposition movement.

The funeral of the dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in the holy city of Qom has attracted tens of thousands of mourners, with the number increasing as I post.

Foreign media are banned from reporting the funeral, but the Twitter hashtags #Montazeri and #Iranelection are flourishing, disseminating photographs of the huge crowds, videos of anti-regime chants, and details of arrests as and when they happen.

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This video — one of three posted (at the time of writing) on a live blog of events — shows demonstrators holding up placards painted green, the colour of the pro-democracy movement:

One video records the chant: “He who was the cheater, ripped the picture.” This refers to the disputed election (the government being the “cheater”), accusing the government of responsibility for a ripped picture of Ayatollah Khomeini shown on state media and blamed on protesters.

Other demonstrators have tweeted that people are chanting: “Basiji, you’ve gone wild!” and “Khamenei, did you know, soon you will fall!”. Another says: “Every minute the number of Greens increases.” A third says that “Groups of ppl have left Ghom for Tehran”.

In the summer, Ayatollah Montazeri wrote in support of the protesters:

I ask the police and army personnel not to “sell their religion”, and be aware that receiving orders will not excuse them before God. Recognise the protesting youth as your children. Today, censorship and cutting telecommunication lines cannot hide the truth.

It remains to be seen whether this will turn into an outbreak on the scale seen after the election in July. But, in the light of these words, it seems rather fitting that Twitter and the blog network, which allow the grass-roots movement to spread its message worldwide, will be the place to find out.

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