Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

A Swing on the Iranian Web. (Internet)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

A Swing on the Iranian Web. (Internet)

Article excerpt

If you are unfortunate enough to be an Iranian swinger, you face a real challenge. It's hard to find like-minded parties behind the jellabas and chadors without the authorities knowing. "Psst! Fancy a shag?" is out of the question. A protracted path of hints, subterfuge and illicit meetings might eventually lead you to the populous Jacuzzi you seek. Or to a torture chamber.

The web saved you and others crazy enough to indulge themselves under a severely intolerant theocracy. And it was not just Iranian swingers' homepages and chatrooms; the web included bloggers describing the killing of dissidents and sites detailinghigh-level corruption: these were the revelations of a people oppressed by 24 years of clerical rule. Until recently, the web was the onlyuncensored medium in Iran: reformist newspapers have been closed down and leading journalists imprisoned. According to several NGOs, Iran has incarcerated more journalists than any other country.

The internet was madly popular. Despite an embargo preventing computer hardware from entering the country, Iranian authorities estimated the numbers of Iranians online was 400,000 in 2001, and this figure was expected to rise to 15 million over the next three years. Computers in Tehran's cybercafe's were easily accessible and cheap, with broadband connections that were faster than those in most British homes. The web was even used by hardline clerics to spread the word of the Prophet; many clerics had their own sites.

Those freedoms are now gone. In a paradoxical two-step, the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami has launched its own web initiative while at the same time cracking down on popular web use elsewhere. The National Information and Communication Technology Agenda (Nicta) is a comprehensive plan, with a $1 bn budget, to put Iran's economy, government and infrastructure such as schools online. …

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