As millions of Iranians flocked to the streets one year ago, the day after the June 12 election, shouting, marching, and making peace signs—in the largest and most vehement protests since the Iranian Revolution of 1979—the regime moved quickly to squash any signs of discontent. Some violent and bloody images began to leak out to the Western press, showing protesters being beaten, or shot—like Neda Agha-Soltan—and dying in puddles of their own blood. Playing defense, the regime tried to shut down Internet and mobile-phone communications inside Iran, keeping thousands of others from reaching beyond their borders. But just a few days ago, a group that has been collecting the digital documentation of last year's protests received 6,000 of these videos from a student leader who has fled Iran. As an exclusive, NEWSWEEK will be running a selection of the uncovered videos.
Iranians had gone to the polls to choose between their incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi. The next morning, when the election was certified for Ahmadinejad with 62 percent of the vote (Mousavi supposedly had 43 percent), protests erupted across the country, sparked by allegations of fraud and irregularities at the polls. At the same time that the Iranian regime was closing the country off from the outside world, a group of disconnected digital activists who were watching with horror realized that they had the technical chops to try to get information out from under the regime’s lockdown. They began setting up proxy servers, receiving content and distributing videos and images to members of the international press, who were being denied access to the streets—or to the country. As this disconnected group worked to emancipate this information, some of the key players began to notice each other on Twitter, and they banded together. Today the group, called Access, has members in 50 countries and has been promised funding from Google and others.
A year later, the pro-democracy Green Movement continues to protest, and the Iranian government still periodically blocks particular sites and narrows bandwidth (so that videos cannot be uploaded and text messages cannot be sent). It is extremely difficult to get any uncensored news from Iran. That is what makes Access’s database of 8,000 videos—of protest and dissent, mostly from Iran—so crucial.
Access cofounder Brett Solomon says, “The 12th of June is also the first anniversary of when people woke up to the power of citizen media,” he says. “It has now become the main form of documentation of the struggle within Iran. Iranian citizens utilize camera phones to document events within their country. Iranian bloggers and protesters have been arrested and harassed for filming and disseminating this kind of footage.”
Citizen journalists are generally amateurs, and most of the videos were shot on cell phones, so they are not of professional quality. They are often blurry, grainy, and confusing. In some videos, faces have been obscured to protect the identity of protesters. The information about time, date, and context has been provided by those who collated the videos. Click here to view the gallery of videos.
Julia Baird is the author of Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians.
Follow her on Twitter.