Tehran's War on Satellite Dishes

| Wed Jun. 17, 2009 5:07 PM EDT

Shahram Kholdi, a graduate student at the University of Manchester, has been in contact with friends and relatives in Tehran during the past few tumultuous days. He reports that the security forces in Tehran have been focusing on a particular target: satellite dishes.

From an email he has sent to scholars and associates:

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[Ahmadinejad's] Security-Intelligence Complex (ANSIC) has now resorted to an all-out communication war.

According to friends and family in Tehran, they are using all types of methods, helicopters and Basij, to identify neighbourhoods with the highest number of satelite dishes and the police then starts the crackdown. In several occasions, the civilian clothing agents have remained on the scene to monitor the activities of the neighbours and have arrested those that have tried to tip off the dish owners.

Also, I was wondering if this message can be forward to anyone who can reach BBC Persian and BBC's technical staff: People generally do not use Telesat, which BBC Persian uses as an alternative to respond to the jamming of its signal on Hotbird, because [Telesat] just has, and I quote, some stupid Iranian music channels. Furthermore, in order to switch their systems, people need technicians to come and help them to rotate and configure their dishes properly. At this time, getting such technicians, who have all gone underground, if not arrested, is almost impossible.

As my uncle said, the situation is increasingly becomes like Tien An Men, as all the outlets of communication are being removed one by one and the fear of a radical and bloody crackdown, despite the fact that people have not lost their spirit, is spreading.

In the note, Kholdi proposes a campaign demanding that the company in charge of the Hotbird satellite stop providing service to the official Iranian news service until Tehran ceases jamming the BBC Persian signal. "I am in contact with friends to figure which body is in charge of Hotbird," Kholdi writes, "but I wanted to specifically ask our lawyer friends who practices in the US and Europe to figure that out and let us know so that we can start the campaign."

He adds, "This of course may be a bit too late because the police have started a new round of operation during which they are taking down satelite dishes neighbourhood by neighbourhood. People need help and they need it now so that they can communicate more effectively."

An eyewitness in Tehran also writes:

As we speak, I can clearly hear gun shots in the streets and people shouting 'Allah o Akbar' and 'Death to this liar government'.

All mobile phones are off, sms has not been working for days, internet is extremely slow, some pages take over 20 minutes to load. Many sites have been filtered, France 24, Deutsche Welle, BBC Persian and BBC World Satellites are not working. VOA Persian just works every now and then, over 100 reformists have been arrested, and we have at least 7 confirmed
dead!

The autocrats of Tehran are sure busy trying to thwart telecommunications. Gone are the days of worrying just about TV and radio stations.

UPDATE: Another eyewitness in Tehran reports on the communications blackout:

As of this morning, all TV signals in my neighborhood are blocked. Some e-m gets through if one is using Outlook but not via a web-based e-m. No web site page is opening, although different parts of the city experience different degrees of access. So no access here to twitter. I am told the jamming of satellite signals use especially strong beams able to "jam" all satellite signals. I don't know the technology and I am worried about and its affect on us especially small children. We live right next to a communications ministry tower so apparently get the full blast. Mobile communications switched off throughout the day - when there is a demonstration beginning, and turned back on about an hour ago about midnight here. So no texting. Last night on Iranian state TV in an interview with the Guardian Council representative viewers where asked via ticker on the bottom of the screen to send in comments by text message. Someone called and said, "no text service is possible". The message was removed.