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Iran News Digest- May 23, 2014

The Iranian Diaspora Twitter Storm

The Iranian Diaspora and online followers on Friday, to stormsocial media with slogans and hashtags aimed at starting discussions about the abuses of the Iranian regime and promoting the  Iranian opposition conference scheduled to take place in Paris on June 27.

The campaign was focused on two one-hour periods, half a day apart, in order to encourage participation from a truly global community of Iranian exiles, activists, and others. The first session began at 1:00 PM, and the second session at 9:00 PM Paris time. It generated some 12,000 tweets bearing the hashtag #MaryamRajavi, which identified the leader of the NCRI and the upcoming Paris gathering. That and two other hashtags were recognized as some of the top trending topics on Twitter for the day.

 This campaign’s tweets expressed concern for a range of specific issues, from prisoner abuse to nuclear weapons to the repression of Iranian dissidents in Camps Ashraf and Liberty. These and other topics will be introduced at the Iranian conference that the campaign was promoting. The global reach of the Twittersphere will also be reflected in the range of attendance at that event, which is set to host hundreds of legislators and dignitaries from the Americas, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East.

 Fear of Western Influence

In light of the organizing powers of social media that were on display today, it’s easy to understand why the Tehran regime is renewing its crackdown on internet access among its citizens. The latest target is Instagram. The extremely popular image-sharing service was banned on Friday by the Ministry of Telecommunications, which cited “privacy concerns” as the reason for the censorship.

 Supreme Leader Khamenei has been vigilant about restricting access to various websites, as a means of combating a “culture invasion” coming through cyberspace from the West. Presumably, one example of this invasion comes in the form of the six Iranian youths who were arrested less than a week ago for dancing to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy.” The event may have reinvigorated concerns among the supreme leader and others.

 In spite of those concerns, Khatamei and other high-profile officials actually use more than one of the services that are banned for the people, including Instagram.

 The Washington Post reports on another example of Iranian clerics’ fear of Western influence. Apparently, parties celebrating divorce have become somewhat fashionable in Iran’s urban areas, leading Ayatollah Emani Kashani to use a Friday sermon to specifically caution citizens against adopting Western practices.

 More dramatically, Kashani called divorce parties “poison for Islamic civilization and society,” and described people who hold them as being “definitely satanic.” The alarmist language suggests real anxiety among the clerical establishment regarding the possibility of Iranian culture opening up to the modern world.

 Iran Christian Persecution

The Christian news agency BosNewsLife repeated on Friday the story of Saeed Abedini, who returned to the headlines this week after the imprisoned Christian pastor was beaten in front of his family while already hospitalized. The news outlet puts this high-profile story in context with the broader persecution of Christians occurring in Iran. It highlights two other Christian religious leaders who are imprisoned in Iran for their beliefs.

 Silas Rabbani was arrested by Iranian intelligence on May 5 and told of plans to apprehend other Christians before being subjected to torture in Gohardasht Prison. Two months earlier, Amin Khaki was part of a group of eight Christians arrested while having a group picnic. He is now being held in Ahwaz Prison, accused, with all other Christian prisoners of conscience, of being a threat to the national security of the Islamic theocracy.

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