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

Finally, the regime seeks to alter the Web by expanding its own presence. This tactic goes beyond the setting up of websites for government offices and ministries. Recent research has shown that the blogosphere of Iran is not simply a home for online dissent; “religious conservatives have a very strong presence in the Iranian blogosphere.”208 This religious presence could be interpreted as representative of the conservatives’ desire for dialogue on this new and alternative platform for expression. Indeed, conservative websites and pro-regime blogs engage in criticism of prominent politicians and branches of government. However, one must also consider announcements such as one made in November 2008 by the Revolutionary Guard Corps, in which it claimed that the Internet is a tool for a velvet revolution in Iran, and that the Corps was launching 10,000 blogs as a countermeasure.209

3.3. Legal Analysis of Iran’s Technical Methods

The extensive filtering, blocking, and other methods meant to control and dominate the Web accessed by Iranians violate both international and Iranian law. There is no practical difference between the banning or blocking of websites, and the banning of newspapers or other more traditional sources of information. Such measures are violations of the rights of both the disseminators of the information and those seeking access to it. Consequently, blocking access to websites of human rights defenders and political activists has been specifically cited as a breach of Article 19 by the HRC.210

The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression found that Iran’s filtering of gateways constitutes excessive control of access to the Web.211 The regime’s justification for this practice, namely the control of immoral websites that are incompatible with Islam,212 fails to meet the necessity standard in paragraph 3 of Article 19. Filtration is excessively stringent and frustrates the Internet’s potential to ensure “respect in practice for the right to freedom of expression.”213 Considering the diversity of content and the high number of sites that are filtered out, the Islamic Republic is breaching its obligation under the ICCPR to guarantee its citizens wide access to information.

In addition, the creation and use of executive agencies charged with controlling the Internet potentially violates the Iranian Constitution. Article 168 of the Constitution provides that

[p]olitical and press offenses will be tried openly and in the presence of a jury, in courts of justice. The manner of the selection of the jury, its powers, and the definition of political offenses, will be determined by law in accordance with the Islamic criteria.

Rather than provide open trials in the presence of juries, the regime created the Committee Responsible for Determining Unauthorized Sites (CCDUS), an executive committee devoted solely to banning and blocking websites. The aggressive actions taken by the CCDUS have prompted legal critics inside Iran to question the legitimacy of an executive organization involved in making legislative and judicial decisions in violation of the Iranian Constitution.214 They argue that decisions regarding limits and restrictions of the rights of the people are the responsibility of the Judiciary under Article 156 of the Constitution.215

Prosecutor Mortazavi has claimed inherent jurisdiction over all illegal sites, stating that he does not need the Committee’s approval. He has also claimed that “the Committee itself has issued a general statement which authorized the Judiciary to independently block the websites it finds in contradiction with the religious and moral principles of Iranian society.”216 However, regardless of which government branch blocks or bans websites, such actions fail to meet Iran’s obligations under Articles 19 and 25 of the ICCPR, even if the underlying laws were valid. The lack of trials to determine the legality of blocking news sites such as Rooydad and Emrooz, and the more recent blocking of sites such as Yaarinews and Yaari, violates Iran’s Constitution.

[208]KELLY & ETLING, supra note 85, at 7.
[209]Shahram Rafizadeh, Passdaran [sic] Warns About a Velvet Internet Revolution, Nov. 23, 2008, available at http://www.roozonline.com/english/archives/2008/11/passdaran_warns_about_a_velvet.html (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[210]Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Syrian Arab Republic, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/84/SYR ¶ 13 (2005).
[211]Abid Hussain Report, supra note 163, ¶ 91.
[212]Khatami Remarks at World Summit, supra note 174.
[213]Abid Hussain Report, supra note 163, ¶ 93.
[214]See OPENNET INITIATIVE, supra note 12, at 4.
[215]Article 156 of the Iranian Constitution reads: “The Judiciary is an independent power, the protector of the rights of the individual and society, responsible for the implementation of justice, and entrusted with the following duties: (1) investigating and passing judgment on grievances, violations of rights, and complaints; the resolution of litigation; the settling of disputes; and the taking of all necessary decisions and measures in probate matters as the law may determine; (2) restoring public rights and promoting justice and legitimate freedoms; (3) supervising the proper enforcement of laws; (4) uncovering crimes; prosecuting, punishing, and chastising criminals; and enacting the penalties and provisions of the Islamic penal code; and (5) taking suitable measures to prevent the occurrence of crime and to reform criminals.”
[216]JANUARY 2005 CHRONOLOGY, supra note 189, at 3.

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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