Software Freedom Day in Iran, a close experience since 2017 to 2021

Among 30+ events for SFD2021 around the globe, 5 events were organized in Iran. Here is my brief thougts on the journey I experienced around SFD since 2017 till now.

Like every other years, many Software Freedom enthusiasts organized events in mid September to celebrate Software Freedom Day. This is a symbolic occasion to raise awareness among people about the significance and necessity of Software Freedom. It is for many years that such events get organized in Iran as well and this year it was little different.

I formally started to participate Free Software Community’s events around 5 years ago; few month after the last grand SFD event in Iran in 2016. I wanted to make a documentary about Free Software and its community of selfless people making a freer future. I tried different approach to get the story-line but no success. Finally I decided to take SFD event organization as the thread in the story and built other parts around it. Surprisingly (at that time) no SFD was organized in 2017 which was the starting point for a massive change in my life. That documentary was never made since I realized that community was far far from what I used to imagine but coming to this realization, motivated me more to get some part in making a freer future. Gradually I realized there is no true community which truly value Software Freedom. I realized the way events were organized was more technical/business oriented rather than being a gathering of those who care about Software Freedom.

Long story short, I decided to actively do my bests for bringing the change I would like to be there. I tried to contribute to Free Software projects in my limited programming capacities, with my limited translation skills and maybe more importantly, by talking about Software Freedom and introducing Free Software solutions. I faced with make injustices from the “Free Software Community in Iran” but I didn’t stop. Since 2018, I expressed my strong will to celebrate SFD even if individually and do it by clicking a selfie on social media saying “Happy SFD”. I made by bottom-line very clear yet invited people to join and making it more interesting.

2018 we had a very different SFD. It was hosted in a very friendly environment in which people could move their sits and interact with each other freely. I heard from different people that this event was the best SFD ever, since it was very informal and friendly. Yet there were others who didn’t consider this event as a true SFD perhaps because it was not grand! This made me realize how people’s perception about SFD has strongly been damaged because of those grand events in past.

These inputs made me more serious to work on making SFD events with minimum requirements and remake people’s perception about SFD towards having many, easy and independent events rather than waiting for a grand one.

I pursue this approach in 2019 as well. Though we got message from some people in Tehran municipality expressing their interest in hosting SFD event. We welcomed their call and started discussion and came to this agreement that we credit them as host but not letting them to interfere with the content of the program. They agreed and never put any pressure on us. 2019 we made the program in Tehran Book Garden with the intention to reach to more non-programmers which was into some extent successful. But despite my attempt, no other program was made for SFD that year. I even requested the regular monthly programs like LUGs (Linux User Group) to mention SFD in their event close to SFD but that didn’t happen!

In 2020, Covid-19 changed the world. Though it could be seen as a harm to FLOSS events, but also it forced us to experience a new age of conducting events and have participants from all over the world. I myself tried to organize a 12 hour event of contribution. Of course it was a big thing to do alone. After 30 minutes, the BigBlueButton server got into some issue which later ended in fully collapse of server and hence my event (I didn’t have any more energy to continue the challenge on a different server). But I was still happy that another group (Ilam LUG) made their program a day before me on the same server. No other events reported that year in Iran.

This year (2021) I am pleased to inform the world community that we in Iran managed to conduct 5 online events. The first one was organized by people in Mashhad city and funded and supported by some companies and organizations. There are several criticism towards this particular program but that is out of the scope on this article. Next was Gnu Meetup special event for SFD with 6 non-technical talks addressing different issues related to significance of Software Freedom in today Iran. Organizers of this event including me, released a statement addressing people, free software community and government.

There were two other events organized by Blender House in Iran and also a telegram based community of front-end developers called Front Chapter in which people discussed the impact of free software in shaping the web. And finally, the last event was organized yesterday by me under Azad-on name focusing on contribution. Like last year, Azad-on tried to inform people that having share in a freer future in computation doesn’t necessarily require programming skills. The event encouraged people to provide non-technical contribution to OpenStreetMap, Mozilla Common Voices and software/documentation translations. After long time, we could achieve daily goal on Common Voice project for Persian language (1200 voice record and 2400 verification).

I am happy that this year, we had multiple groups organizing small but independent events for SFD rather waiting for a big and grand event that would address limited number of programmer whose majority at the end, doesn’t contribute to Free Software projects. I hope this experience could have some share in breaking the malformed imagination of so called Free Software Community in Iran around the way of celebrating Software Freedom Day.

I am not sure how much I had impact on this shift, but that doesn’t matter much. What is important is that this year we collectively could show that we can have multiple small, easy and independent events to celebrate Software Freedom Day.