Imagine if posting the wrong thing on social media could cost you 21 years in prison. It may sound like a scenario from a dystopian novel, but sadly it’s not Orwellian* fiction: it’s an Iranian reality.
On Monday, eight Iranians were jailed for between 11 and 21 years for something they posted on Facebook site. Why? Because their posts were interpreted as propaganda against either the regime, or against Iran’s leaders, or against Islamic religious values. Access to social networks, including Twitter and Facebook, is routinely filtered by Iranian authorities, as are other websites. Eight others were also jailed in May in relation to their online ‘crimes’.
President Rouhani promised greater tolerance on social, cultural and media issues; a vow that helped him defeat hardliners in last year's election. But his attempts have been opposed by conservatives who hold sway in the establishment. Let’s pray for greater freedom online, not least because the internet is such a vital space for the Iranian church: an increasing proportion of evangelism and discipleship now happens online.
*Orwell’s classic book 1984, was about a ruthlessly totalitarian state