IRAN: Government-controlled media mute on deadly protests in Syria
The deadly mass demonstrations that have rocked Syria for the last 10 days and constitute the greatest challenge to President Bashar Assad since he took power 11 years ago have been a top news item on many media networks around the world.
But not in Iran. Government-controlled media in Syria's close ally remain largely silent about the unprecedented demonstrations and political unrest.
Since the start of the protests in Syria, Iranian government and semi-official media appear to have turned a blind eye to the upheavals and instead have focused on the unrest in Yemen, Libya and, particularly, Shiite-majority Bahrain, where there is loyalty to Iran.
[Updated, 9:02 a.m.: Although ignoring the protests, several government-controlled and semi-official Iranian media outlets appear to have taken interest in the demonstrations organized in Syria on Tuesday in support of Assad. "Millions of Syrians [link in Persian] supporting President Bashar Assad's reform, national security, and unity plan" took part, read an excerpt of an article posted on the website of Iran's semi-official Mehr News Agency. Fars News reported that "hundreds of thousands [link in Persian] of people" had been in the streets of Damascus and Aleppo "to show their allegiance to President Bashar Assad."
The Iranian reformist news site Rahesabz, for its part, ignored the pro-Assad protests and covered reports that the Syrian president might lift the state of emergency (Perisan).]
One of the few recent references on the Syrian unrest in Iranian state media came Saturday when the Islamic Republic News Agency reportedly published (link in Persian) an article about how Syrian television had aired a video that day of two Syrian American protesters who purportedly confessed to being paid stooges of Israel and the U.S.
Otherwise, it's mainly reformist Iranian websites that have been providing news and analysis on Syria over the last few days, observers say.
The reformist Iranian news site AftabNews reported on the death toll (link in Persian) in some protest-stricken Syrian cities over the weekend while Rahesabz, a web platform close to Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, has been reporting more regular updates and analysis on Syria.
When the protests kicked off in Syria and reports began to trickle in about security forces cracking down on demonstrators with deadly force and protesters being billed as armed gangs by Syrian media, opposition writers compared it with the Iranian authorities' clampdown on anti-government protesters.
"Dozens of protesting people were killed by security and anti-riot police in Syria, and the Syrian government, in the manner of its Iranian ally, claimed that 'criminal gangs' were responsible for killing the protesting people," read an article posted on Rahesabz (Persian) on March 24.
Another piece posted on the site, written by U.S.-based dissident Iranian cleric and philosopher Mohsen Kadivar, puts the governments of Libya, Iran and Syria in the same bag, saying that they are "sooner or later doomed."
Meanwhile, Tabnak -- an Iranian news site close to moderate hardliners -- focused on the (link in Persian) political prisoners who were freed over the weekend and the release of a group of detainees arrested outside the Syrian interior ministry.
-- Los Angeles Times
Photo: Opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad shout slogans outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, after prayers, March 25, 2011. Credit: Associated Press