As Rafsanjani sparks new protests in Iran, one popular blogger is mysteriously silent
In the days after the June 12 presidential election in Iran, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, spurred on – at least in part – by messages exchanged on a range of social networks, from Facebook to MySpace. Among the most popular was persiankiwi, a Twitter user purportedly located in Iran. Such was his or her clout that one outlet dubbed persiankiwi "the world's most important journalist."
At a time when many Western journalists were barred from leaving their hotel rooms – or forbidden from entering the country at all – persiankiwi appeared to have a front-row seat to the carnage. On June 24, he or she posted the following updates to Twitter:
• saw 7/8 militia beating one woman with baton on ground - she had no defense nothing - #Iranelection sure that she is dead
• they were waiting for us - they all have guns and riot uniforms - it was like a mouse trap - ppl being shot like animals
• I see many ppl with broken arms/legs/heads - blood everywhere - pepper gas like war
• just in from Baharestan Sq - situation today is terrible - they beat the ppls like animals
Alongside Neda Soltan, a woman apparently shot dead by a basiji militiaman on the streets of Tehran, persiankiwi became a symbol of a new uprising – one that derived its power from a sprawling network of young protesters.
As BNO’s Michael van Poppel discovered, by the end of June, CNN.com was even picking up persiankiwi's tweets, and weaving them into news stories posted on the site. (CNN did this without attributing the accounts to persiankiwi, or indicating that the information came from Twitter; a spokesman for the network later apologized.)
Today, Iranian security forces and plainclothes militiamen clashed with protesters near Tehran University, the Los Angeles Times reported. The incident, which was sparked by a sermon delivered by opposition supporter Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has hurled Iran back into the global spotlight.
And again, Twitter is bursting at the digitized seams with accounts of the conflict. (To follow discussions on the Iranian elections, navigate to Twitter – you don't need a user name or password – and type in the search field #IranElections.) But one voice is missing: that of persiankiwi, who has been silent since late June.
Persiankiwi's last message to his or her tens of thousands of followers was posted on June 24, at 11:39 in the morning: "Allah - you are the creator of all and all must return to you - Allah Akbar - #Iranelection Sea of Green." The final three words of the post refer to the color worn by many of the opposition protesters in and out of Iran.
A mystery deepens
It's very hard to determine exactly what happened to persiankiwi, since his or her identity was never made public.
Many bloggers have speculated that persiankiwi was arrested – a plausible scenario, considering how willing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been to silence anti-government voices. (Earlier this month he had one blogger arrested for claiming that Ahmadinejad had Jewish roots.)
Alternatively, many have argued that persiankiwi is in hiding, or has begun blogging under a different name. In late June, for instance, Fershteh Ghazi, an Iranian journalist, wrote that persiankiwi was not arrested, but had merely lost regular Internet access.
Another possibility: government forces commandeered persiankiwi's account, and used it to broadcast at least one pro-Ahmadinejad message before freezing the feed completely. This would explain the final post, which broke from the blow-by-blow reporting of previous messages.
For his part, blogger Aric Mayer has argued that persiankiwi may simply have become disillusioned by the scale of the violence. On June 24, Mayer wrote that, "So far [persiankiwi's] twitter stream has been infused with excitement, potential and hidden dangers, as if these were furtive dispatches in a Matrix like underground resistance, tapping in and out of the web to upload small bits and direct traffic towards some useful end."
Mayer proceeded to parse the arc of persiankiwi's posts – from hope, to terror, to the final post praising Allah. "The last line sounds like a benediction," Mayer writes. "The tone has changed dramatically and if these reports are true, I fear that this a turning point in the revolution."
Whatever the case, that was the last the word from persiankiwi.
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