New York Times: A man bled to death on a street in Tehran on Monday. As one bystander tenderly held the man’s head, five others held out their cameras.
The New York Times
By BRIAN STELTER and BRAD STONE
Published: June 18, 2009
A man bled to death on a street in Tehran on Monday. As one bystander tenderly held the man’s head, five others held out their cameras.
They captured photos and videos of the man, and of the blood that stained his white shirt. On Wednesday afternoon, an anonymous individual uploaded the disturbing video to YouTube, where it was viewed by thousands and shared by bloggers.
“This is absolutely despicable,” wrote one of those commenting on the YouTube video, urging the protesters to stay active. “The rest of the world is watching and cheering you on.”
Via the Internet, the world has received unprecedented looks at the continuing unrest in Iran. As foreign journalists are forced to leave Tehran and others are essentially confined to their hotel rooms, news organizations are looking more and more to the Iranians themselves to provide the news, or at least the pictures.
Dozens of videos of the sometimes violent protests by opponents of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have appeared on YouTube and other sites in the days following last Friday’s presidential election, provided by Iranians eager to circumvent the shroud of censorship their government was trying to place over the unfolding events. On Wednesday, amateur videos of an opposition rally were one of the primary sources of television pictures from Tehran. Another video showed a protest inside a Tehran train station.
YouTube said it had relaxed its usual restrictions on violent videos to allow the images from Iran to reach the rest of the world.
“In general, we do not allow graphic or gratuitous violence on YouTube,” the company said in a statement. “However, we make exceptions for videos that have educational, documentary, or scientific value. The limitations being placed on mainstream media reporting from within Iran make it even more important that citizens in Iran be able to use YouTube to capture their experiences for the world to see.” But the Iranian government continued to try to restrict Web communications. On Wednesday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard warned that protesters trying to stoke tensions using Internet sites like Twitter would be subject to retribution.
“We warn those who propagate riots and spread rumors that our legal action against them will cost them dearly,” a statement from the military force said.
At the same time, the opposition candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi was using his public profile page on Facebook to organize protests scheduled for Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Iranian visas of many visiting journalists have expired, meaning that the corps of international reporters in the country is shrinking. Newspapers and television news networks are increasingly supplementing their on-the-ground reporting with video images, with frequent caveats that their authenticity cannot be verified.
On Wednesday, CNN frequently showed amateur videos, with a graphic that labeled them “unverified material.” It showed a YouTube video of the aftermath of an apparent raid at Tehran University. The video showed rooms that appeared to have been burned extensively.
It is unclear how the gripping videos are being uploaded, given the restrictions on Internet access within Iran. Behind the scenes, a sophisticated cat and mouse game is playing out, with the Iranian government trying to thwart free Internet communications, and an informal coalition of Iranian protesters and their sympathizers trying to keep the floodgates open to data.
Throughout the week, supporters of the protesters around the world had been making their own computers available to Iranians who wanted to evade government censors.
These people have been publishing the IP addresses of their computers to public forums like Twitter — offering them as so-called proxy servers.
Greg Walton, founder of Psiphon, a provider of Web proxy services, said the continued Internet activity from Iran was a testament to the durability of the Internet and the commitment of Iranians to get their story out despite the government crackdown.
“Information is still coming out of Iran,” he said. “Twitter is still buzzing from people giving live updates from the street, and YouTube is full of live videos testifying to the brutality of the regime’s crackdown. The Internet is fragile but still operational.”
Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent and a native of Iran, arrived back in London on Tuesday after her one-week Iranian visa expired. While CNN still has personnel in Tehran, Ms. Amanpour expects a heavier emphasis on amateur video.
“You can’t keep any of this news down anymore, and that’s a huge change from the past,” she said in an interview. “The process of getting the word out is totally democratized.”