The recent emergence of internet newspapers in Iran is evidence of the will of Iranian citizens and opposition forces to continue to communicate even as the Islamic Republic intensifies censorship, filtering and repression. By reading Internet newspapers we learn that the Iranian protest movement is as diverse as is Iranian society and its blogosphere.
In the last two months, the Islamic Republic's security forces have tightened their grip on the media, this after Iran was swept by large-scale protests against the June 12 presidential election results, which declared incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner.
Dozens of journalists and bloggers have been imprisoned, pro-reformist websites have been filtered and a few not-yet-banned reformist journals such as Etemad Meli are under intensified surveillance. Under such difficult circumstances for the media, we are witnessing a new phenomenon inside Iran: the emergence of “underground” Internet newspapers.
At the end of June, at least two such newspapers were launched: Khyaboon (“Street”) and Kalam Sabz (“Green Word”) where the word “green” is a reference to Mir Hussein Mousavi's campaign colors. So far, Khyaboon has published 13 issues and Kalam Sabz has published 10. Khyaboon is available only by email and the paper has no website or blog. Kalam Sabz also uses email, but has a website. Both journals are distributed in PDF file format.
Here are a few headlines from Khayaboon: “What is going on in the silence of Evin prison”, “While the blood drops from the regime's hands, Mousavi only writes a letter”, (first photo), “Is this a velvet coup?”, “Urban art is critical of established order” (second photo), “Stop forcing confessions”, “People came to confront the coup, but Mousavi did not come” (third photo), “War breaks out in the streets” (fourth photo), and “A campaign to defend imprisoned protesters has begun” (fifth photo).
Headlines in Kalam Sabz, include: “Mousavi presents his condolences to victims’ families”, “Neda is the most popular word in the world” (first photo), “Karroubi: Forces of repression were trained in Russia” (second photo), “This year, a worse disaster than 18 Tir” [the 1999 crackdown on student revolt] (third photo), “Khatami: It was a velvet Coup against people” (fourth photo).
A common point between two publications is that both of them are against the current president and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayathollah Ali Khamenei‘s decision to approve Ahmadinejad's victory.
While Kalam Sabz largely reflects the opinions and statements of reformist leaders and parties, Khyaboon criticizes Mousavi for being too soft to face to the authorities and call for more action. Kalam Sabz, as the reformists’ organ, does not question the legitimacy of Islamic Republic, while Khyaboon takes a different approach.
Khyaboon can be characterized as a radical-left journal, which criticizes even Mousavi for his inaction. In an article entitled “Mousavi and his elites”, contributor Amir K. writes that Mousavi's actions demonstrate his reluctance to sacrifice his class interests, and that while his 9th Statement says Ahmadinejad is not a legitimate president, he falls short of proposing ways to defeat the coup and fails to demand that those who killed people be brought to justice.
Khyaboon publishes the poems of Said Soltani, a well-known Marxist poet who was executed in early 1980's when Ayatollah Khomeini, the spirtual Leader of Iranian reformists and conservatives, was at the head of the Islamic Republic. The views of the Workers’ Union and leftist students are published in Khayaboon as well.
Kalam Sabz in its first issue quoted a statement by the Iranian Leader from 30 years ago in which he criticized the Shah's alleged habit of following his own desires and not those of the people. If today somebody follows the same path, says Kalam Sabz, he commits an act deserving of similar condemnation.
Images speak louder than words
Khyaboon has published many photos of the protests, including some depicting security forces repressing protesters or protesters throwing stones. There are almost no photos of reformist leaders. Kalam Sabz, on the other hand, rarely publishes photos of the protest movement and usually runs a photo of a reformist leader on its front page.
Khyaboon, also in contrast to Kalam Sabz, publishes cartoons targeting Ali Khamenei and displays on the front page of its 13th issue graffiti (second photo in our Khyaboon album) of a monkey passing through various stages of evolution to become a man and finally a man with a gun.
Reading the new underground internet newspapers offers a sense of deepening crisis in Iran and the sad state of its media. Khyaboon and Kalam Sabz shed light on the divergent strains within the protest movement and the way in which one part of society radicalises its requests and slogans.
Zeitoon, an Iran-based blogger, describes a similar situation on her blog. At a Thursday demonstration she observed lots of “down with Khamenei”, “down with dictator” and “Allaho Akbar” slogans, but there were only a few times that she heard Mousavi's name.
Kyaboon and Kalam Sabz are militant journals fighting against the strong influence of state-run newspapers, TV, radio and web sites. It appears that between the state's huge propaganda machine that portrays everything in the country as wonderful, and the “fight club”-style underground journals, independent media has lost its place. Independent journalists have found a place, however: the prison cell.