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

Censorship of both traditional media and the Internet increased before the February 2004 parliamentary elections.176 Although by this point there were several legal avenues for blocking specific websites, technology officials, including the Minister of ICT, noted that some blocking occurred outside the established legal framework.177 For example, before the elections, the news sites Emrooz and Rooydad were blocked under orders of the Judiciary. Both of these sites represented reformist political associations. The former was the news site for the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization and the latter was the website of the Islamic Participation Front. Both sites were high-profile news sources run by prominent reformist political advocates. The editor-in-chief of Rooydad was Seyyed Mohammad Reza Khatami, the brother of President Khatami.

The blocking of the websites was challenged as an illegal decision made unilaterally by the Judiciary.178 However, the action was defended by Tehran Chief Prosecutor Mortazavi, who claimed that the authority for the blocking was forthcoming.179 It is unclear whether such authorization ever materialized, and Mortazavi was repeatedly accused of trying to shut down websites without legal authorization.180

Undeterred, in August 2004, Mortazavi escalated his campaign against Rooydad and Emrooz. At the time, they were blocked by several ISPs but they had not been officially banned. Seyyed Mohammad Reza Khatami, the editor of Rooydad, complained that Amaken officers had begun harassing IT companies that provided services to Rooydad.181 Within a few days of each other, Asghar Vatankhah, in charge of advertising for the Emrooz website, and Masood Ghoreishi, a website technician at the same news outlet, were arrested. Their homes were searched and their computers and files were seized.182 This was followed by the arrest of six members of Rooydad’s technical staff: Farid Sani, Arash Naderpour, Mani Javadi, Kiavash Ghadmeli, Mozhgan Ghavidel, and Mehdi Derayati.183 Although most of the charges were ultimately dropped, these arrests of technicians—instead of editors or journalists—were part of a practical strategy to eliminate the news sites. The technicians were forced to relinquish passwords and other important data, which were then used to monitor and shut down the websites.184

In early 2005, the Islamic Republic publically admitted to using filtering software—SmartFilter produced by a company called Secure Computing in the United States. That year, the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) studied the effects of the use of this software in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and found that it was designed to over-filter.185 For example, the software blocks sex education sites, sites that deal with sexual identity and preference, women’s rights sites, and even translation sites.186 The study also showed that many other sites were targeted and blocked, such as the Voice of America news site.187

[176]OPENNET INITIATIVE, supra note 11, at 12.
[177]Vazir-i Irtibatat va Fanavari: Zahiran Filtering-i Barkhi Saytha az Taraf-i Dastgah-i Ghaza’i va Ru’asa Surat Giriftih; Bihtar ast Filtering bar Asas-i Musavvebihyyih Shurayih Aliyih Inqilab-i Farhang Bashad [Ministry of Information Technology: Apparently Some Sites Have Been Filtered Pursuant to Orders from the Judiciary; It is Better if Filtering is Administered Pursuant to Regulations Passed by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution] ISNA, 21/10/1383 [Jan. 10, 2005], available (in Persian) at http://isna.ir/Isna/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-479646; see also Didgahhayih Dadsitan-i Tehran va Ra’is-i Shurayih Hamahangiyih Nizaratbar Fa’aliyathayih Irtibatiyih Vizarat-i Irtibatat Darbarihyyih Filtering [The Views of Tehran’s Prosecutor’s Office and the Head of the Coordinating Council for Communication Activities (of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology) Regarding Filtering], ISNA, 22/10/1383 [Jan. 11, 2005], available at http://isna.ir/Isna/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-480466 (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[178]Iranian Official Advocating Press Freedom Deplores Closure of Websites, PAYVAND’S IRAN NEWS, Feb. 23, 2004, available at http://www.payvand.com/news/04/feb/1172.html (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[179]Id.
[180]OPENNET INITIATIVE, supra note 11, at 12..
[181]Dabir-i Kul-i Musharikat dar Namih’i bih Mu’avin-i Ra’is Jumhur; az Ihzar-i Telephoniyih Ti’dadi az Afrad-i Muntasib bih Jibhihyyih Musharikat Khabar Dad va Khahan-i Risidigi Shud [In a Letter, the Head of the Islamic Iran Participation Front Informed the Vice President of the Telephonic Summoning of Several Members Linked to the Participation Front and Requested an Investigation Into the Matter], ISNA, 1/6/1383 [Aug. 22, 2004], available (in Persian) at http://isna.ir/Isna/NewsView.aspx?ID=News-422135 (last visited Apr. 23, 2009) [hereinafter Islamic Iran Participation Front Letter]
[182]HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, FALSE FREEDOM: ONLINE CENSORSHIP IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA 49-50 (2005), available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/mena1105/5.htm#_Toc119125729 (last visited Apr. 23, 2009) [hereinafter FALSE FREEDOM].
[183]Id. at 50.
[184]OPENNET INITIATIVE, supra note 11, at 12-13.
[185]Id. at 18-19.
[186]Id.
[187]Id.

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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