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Fighting Iran's government -- online from Toronto

By Nick Wrenn, CNN
Saeed Valadbaygi: We clearly see that each citizen in Iran is acting as a media.
Saeed Valadbaygi: We clearly see that each citizen in Iran is acting as a media.
  • Exile's network is getting news out of Iran and onto the Internet
  • In two days after December 27 violence, he said he had 17 million hits
  • Saeed Valadbaygi left Iran after taking part in protests in June
  • He acknowledges journalists, bloggers take risks in contacting him

(CNN) -- From a small apartment in Toronto, Iranian exile Saeed Valadbaygi is trying to bring news from his country to the world.

Using a network of Iranian journalists and eager volunteers back in Tehran, the 27-year-old former student collates reports, pictures and video for his Web site

Having fled Iran following the June demonstrations, Valadbaygi set up the site in November -- his latest attempt to beat what he says are government hackers and offer news and views about the unrest in Iran.

With international media operating under restrictions in Iran, independent journalists using blogs and social networking sites have become an important source of information.

"What's happening in Iran is not being reflected globally. We want to let the world know and let the state know that the world is watching," said Valadbaygi.

During the deadly street demonstrations in Tehran on December 27, Valadbaygi said his web site had 17 million hits in two days. The site, which is maintained by about 12 volunteers, wobbled and slowed down, but stayed up and running.

"We've already experienced a large number of viewers on our blogs and web sites and therefore we have been hacked by the regime of Iran repeatedly and unfortunately have lost access to many of our web sites. But introducing this web site (to) professional colleagues and also lots of viewers who are currently collaborating with us has helped in achieving wonderful results in the past few days."

Valadbaygi believes in the power of social media. He is active on Facebook and Twitter and maintains a blog called Revolutionary Road.

Timeline: Turmoil in Iran
Video: Iran protest crackdowns

"Facebook and Twitter have turned into a strong tool for people in spreading news. Citizen journalists have the most effect on news and today we clearly see that each citizen in Iran is acting as a media. Therefore we have the responsibility in gathering the news in one place to achieve a better result against the regime's censorship," he said.

Valadbaygi, who says he was expelled in 2008 from Amirkabir University in Tehran because of his political views, took part in the June protests and distributed underground newspapers as an independent demonstrator, rather than a supporter of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi.

Deciding that he needed to leave Iran to pursue his politics, he says he went first to Turkey before arriving in Canada as a "political refugee" and quickly connecting with an ex-pat Iranian community in Toronto. He now works long hours collating information for his web site.

Meanwhile, Valadbaygi worries about his parents, brother and sister in Tehran. He says his brother was recently arrested. He communicates with his family using multiple email accounts while his parents use public phones to minimize the risk of the call being traced.

And he acknowledges that his network of correspondents in Iran, which he says is spreading to cities beyond Tehran, contact him in the full knowledge that they could attract the attention of the authorities. "They could track the IP addresses and this could cause problems in the workplace or university."

Valadbaygi says eight of the people he has worked with in the past are currently in jail.

Assessing the latest street demonstrations, Valadbaygi says the protest movement is fragmented with diverse demands but there is a groundswell of public opinion that wants a new secular government.

"It's important that a leadership emerges as quickly as possible otherwise it might all die down."