15 August 2011

A tale of two water fights

Earlier this month the Grauniad carried this report

In the 40C heat of an Iranian summer, what better way to have fun and stay cool than a water fight with friends? In the Islamic republic, however, things are a bit more complicated.

For one group of boys and girls, their game turned serious when they were arrested for taking part in a water pistol fight in a park in the capital, Tehran.

Last Friday hundreds of enthusiasts used plastic pistols and empty bottles to play in the ironically named Garden of Water and Fire for hours and, to the surprise of many, without police interference. But the event – organised on Facebook – prompted criticism from conservatives when pictures of it emerged online days later.

The head of Tehran's morality police, Ahmad Roozbehani said: "A mixed-gender event took place on Friday ... They had been asked to bring water pistol toys, which most of them had in hand ... they acted against social norms."

Iranian MPs also condemned the water fight, spreading the debate nationwide. Hossein Ibrahimi, a conservative MP, said such events would spread "corruption" and were "shameful".

The arrests of the organisers and participants of the event came after conservative websites urged the regime to identify those behind the water pistol fight.

Organised on a Facebook page called "Tehran's water pistol fight", the event attracted more than 14,000 people and prompted pages promoting similar events in other cities such as Isfahan and Karaj.

Potking Azarmehr, a London-based Iranian blogger who has written a post in response to the arrests, said: "There are two issues here which have troubled the regime: people having fun and people organising a gathering through the social media. Both are perceived as a threat by the regime."

Now fast forward to England, 15 August in the year of our lord 2011. Today the Guardian reports:

A man will appear before magistrates next month for allegedly attempting to organise a town-wide water fight through his mobile phone.

The 20-year-old from Colchester, Essex, was arrested on Friday after Essex police discovered the alleged plans circulating on the BlackBerry Messenger service and Facebook.
The unnamed man has been charged with "encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence" under the 2007 Serious Crime Act, police said.

He was arrested with another 20-year-old man the day the water fight was allegedly due to take place, and has been bailed to appear before Colchester magistrates on 1 September. The second man was released without charge.

A police spokesman declined to disclose whether Essex police had been monitoring the service since the riots. "Essex police use appropriate measures for whatever the crime and wherever our investigations lead us," he said.

The prime minister said last week that the government would investigate whether social-networking platforms should be shut down if they helped to "plot" crime in the wake of the riots.

Speaking during last Thursday's parliamentary debate on the riots, David Cameron said he would investigate whether social-networking sites should be shut down if they helped to "plot" crime. The prime minister said he would "look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality".

He has received support from some Tory backbenchers, including Louise Mensch, who likened such a ban to closing a stretch of rail network after an accident.

The Iranian government regularly blocks phone and social networking sites on the basis of what it describes as criminal activities.

TO me this sounds like a massive over reaction to what looks to me like a trivial nuisance. But then it features Facebook and Blackberry Messenger so it must be evil and stamped out. I can only imagine that Essex Police are riding the wave of hysteria following the riots and are looking to clamp down hard on anything that even smells remotely of public disorder, however remote.

Hopefully when things calm down a little cooler heads will prevail and some of the idiotic ideas being mooted (shutting down social media networks, using the army in riot control, water cannons firing AIDS infected Rotweiller/African Bee hybrids etc) and we will get down to sorting out the root causes (there will be more than one cause) of this problem.


susan said...

Once upon a time people posted signs on notice boards and streetlight posts but nobody ever tried to ban paper. If protests are going to happen it won't be because of electronic social networking.

jams o donnell said...

Ah Susan if only the politicians had had the foresight to ban paper then none of this would have happened!

I jest of course!