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

The Iranian regime’s legal and administrative scheme unduly burdens the exercise of expression and access to information on the Web, and goes beyond what is considered legitimate under Article 19, paragraph 3 of the ICCPR. In 2002, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression affirmed that, with regard to dissemination and access, the Internet is recognized as an important means to gain information and ideas to pursue social justice and respect for human rights.163 He agreed that some controls on the content of the Web, such as limits on neo-Nazi propaganda, were both appropriate and welcome,164 but opined that any restriction must be legitimate under paragraph 3 of Article 19. The HRC has also found that safeguarding and strengthening national security, unity, and public order cannot be achieved by forbidding expression on democratic tenets and human rights.165

3. Technical Methods Used to Control and Alter the Web in Iran

As part of the Islamic Republic’s effort to maintain control and dominance over public expression in Iran, it alters and censors the Web that is accessed by Iranians. Methods used include shutting down websites at their sources, blocking specific websites so users cannot access them, filtering out large parts of the Web, restricting Internet speeds, and altering the Web by filling it with the regime’s ideas and opinions.

3.1. During the Reformist Era (1997-2005)

As early as 2000, Iranian authorities shut down affiliated websites of several reformist newspapers that had been closed.166 Over the next couple of years, website banning became more organized and pronounced. In December 2002, the Committee Responsible for Determining Unauthorized Sites (CCDUS) was established.167 Made up of representatives from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (MCIG), the Ministry of Intelligence, the Ministry of ICT, and the Ministry of Justice,168 the Committee identifies both the criteria for identifying illegal websites, and reports such websites to the Ministry of ICT to be censored accordingly.169

In March 2003, the authorities blocked dozens of websites because of their political or allegedly pornographic content.170 These included websites of United States radio and TV stations broadcasting in Persian, which were quite popular with the general public.171 By May, ISPs were being threatened with legal action if they failed to filter out a list of 15,000 sites.172 In December, Internet users in Iran noticed that large parts of the Google search engine had become inaccessible and responded by venting their frustration online during the World Summit on the Information Society.173 At the summit, President Khatami faced questions regarding Iran’s blocking practices, which he claimed were only aimed at pornographic material.174 Answering questions at a related forum, the Minister of ICT, Ahmad Motamedi explained that the blacklist was given to private ISPs and that the press knew its contents. However, this list was never published.175

[163]UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Civil and Political Rights, Abid Hussain, Including the Question of Freedom of Expression, ¶ 88, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2002/75 (Jan. 30, 2002), available at http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/e06a5300f90fa0238025668700518ca4/9c822779c7f603b2c1256b9d004c8f56/$FILE/G0210396.pdf (last visited Apr. 23, 2009) [hereinafter Abid Hussain Report].
[164]Id. ¶ 93.
[165]Womah Mukong v. Cameroon, Communication No. 458/1991, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/51/D/458/1991¶ 4.1 (1994). This case was brought by a journalist and political activist who had criticized public policy while speaking with a foreign news media outlet. He was arrested and charged with “intoxication of national and international opinion” by the government of Cameroon. Although Cameroon contended that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression must take into account the political context and situation prevailing in a country, the HRC disagreed.
[166]Rahimi, supra note 9, at 46.
[167]ITCRC Report, supra note 136, at 9.
[168]ICTRC names the members of the committee as representatives of the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Broadcasting, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution and the Islamic Propagation Organization. ICTRC REPORT, supra note 136, at 9.
[169]Id. at 9; see also Rahimi, supra note 9, at 47.
[170]Rahimi, supra note 9, at 46-47.
[171]Id. at 47, 55 n.28.
[172]Iran Steps Up Net Censorship, BBC, May 12, 2003, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3019695.stm (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[173]Iranian Bloggers Rally Against Censorship, BBC, Dec. 11, 2003, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3310493.stm (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[174]Mohammad Khatami, Former President of Iran, Remarks at the World Summit on the Information Society (Dec. 11, 2003), available (in audio format) at http://www.itu.int/wsis/geneva/coverage/archive.asp?lang=en&c_type=pc|11 (last visited Apr. 23, 2009) [hereinafter Khatami Remarks at World Summit]..
[175]Iran’s ICT Minister Confronted, THE DAILY SUMMIT, Dec. 11, 2003, available at http://www.dailysummit.net/english/archives/2003/12/11/irans_ict_minister_confronted.asp (last visited Apr. 23, 2009) (including the transcript of an interview with Iran’s ICT Minister, Ahmad Motamedi). Minister Motamedi insisted that Iran only banned 240 sites. This seems an incredibly small number considering the emphasis on blocking pornographic content.

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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