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Ctrl+Alt+Delete: Iran's Response to the Internet

On November 29, 2002, a series of telephone poles were installed in Rasht. In appearance they were cell phone towers, but in reality they served to interrupt the reception of satellites, so people couldn’t watch satellite TV. One of those poles was placed in front of a girls’ school, which could affect the fertility of the girls. I did some research on this issue and prepared a controversial report that was to be published by our newspaper. The night before distribution, the general manager removed the story and said if it was published we would be shut down. I retorted that reporting on the news was a worthwhile cause to be shut down for. When I couldn’t run the report, I put the article on my weblog that evening to spite the general manager of the newspaper. Immediately, other news agencies picked up the report. Other cities began to realize the same thing was being done in their area, and understood what the real situation was. From that point on, whenever my general manager disagreed with me, I resisted fighting him on it—I would just put the article on my blog.91

These developments did not go unnoticed by conservative elements aligned with the Supreme Leader who began to see the Internet’s growing popularity and influence as a threat. They had concerns regarding pornography and foreign news sources but also realized that as the domestic print media had been systematically muzzled beginning in 2000, dissident and reformist ideas and news stories had migrated to the Internet.92

2. Iran’s Regulation of Internet Expression

The Islamic Republic has responded to the rise of the Internet by altering and dominating the Web’s landscape and increasing the price of Internet expression. Through filtering,93 blocking,94 and censoring content, the regime substantially dominates and alters the Web that Iranians access. Through arrests, detentions and torture, the regime has sought to quash dissenting views on the Internet. However, the regime has also sought to control and dominate the Internet accessed by Iranians through use of criminal laws. It uses established laws that traditionally regulate the press and expression, but is also developing Internet-specific laws and creating multiple regulatory bodies charged with Internet oversight. As a result, Iranians must navigate through a maze of legal and bureaucratic obstacles simply to exercise their fundamental right of expression on the Internet.

This section catalogues the more prominent press and Internet-specific laws that comprise the obstacles facing Iranian Internet users. The next section of this report, Section 3, describes and analyzes the regime’s attempts to control and dominate the Internet accessed by Iranians through blocking, filtration and censorship. The last section, Section 4, documents arrests, detention and torture of bloggers and journalists.

2.1. Laws Regulating Expression

In the absence of a comprehensive law addressing Internet or cyber-crimes, the Judiciary has shut down websites and prosecuted individual bloggers under the established legal framework, including the Press Law and Islamic Penal Code, both of which apply to the electronic media.

2.1.1. The Press Law

The Press Law, enacted in 1986 and amended on April 18, 2000, applies to all “publications that are published regularly and under a permanent name, date and serial number …”95 The press has the right to publish “opinions, constructive criticisms, suggestions and explanations of individuals and government officials for public information while duly observing the Islamic teachings and the best interests of the community.” Each publication must enforce one of five goals in such a way that it does not conflict with other goals or the “principles of the Islamic Republic.”96 The five goals are:

(a) To enlighten public opinion and increase the level of their knowledge on one or several topics mentioned in Article 1;
(b) To advance the objectives outlined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic;
(c) To endeavor to negate the drawing up of false and divisive lines, or pitting different groups of the community against each other by practices such as dividing people by race, language, customs, local traditions, etc.;
(d) To campaign against manifestations of imperialistic culture (such as extravagance, dissipation, love of luxury, spread of morally corrupt practices, etc.) and to propagate and promote genuine Islamic culture and sound ethical principles; and
(e) To preserve and strengthen the policy of neither East nor West.

[91]Witness Statement of Sigarchi, supra note 59, ¶ 6.
[92]See Rahimi, supra note 9, at 45 (discussing the migration of reformist and pro-reformist factions to the Internet).
[93]Filtering refers to the use of Web filtering software, content control software or censorware that is designed to limit the content that can be accessed by a user through the use of various means such as key words.
[94]Blocking refers to the practice of specifically targeting a website so that users cannot access it. This can be done by individuals on their home computers, by system administrators and ISPs.
[95]Qanun-i Matbu’at [Press Law] 1364 [ratified 1986, amended 2000], art. 1, available at http://iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/iraniancodes.htm [hereinafter Press Law].
[96] Id. art. 2, note.

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Tagged as:

Free Speech, Right to Protest, Cyber Journalism, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Free Association, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination