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

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which has been ratified by Iran, Article 19 in conjunction with Article 25,24 reaffirms that people should be guaranteed wide access to information that will allow them to participate in the social and political sphere of their society.25

In the Islamic tradition, expression is considered an important blessing bequeathed by God.26 Consequently, the Quran takes the right to freedom of expression as a given, evidenced by its persistent prescription of rational argumentation of religious matters and its strong support for investigations into all the facets of creation.27 Further avowal of the freedom of expression is found in principles such as the promotion of good and the prevention of evil (hisbah), sincere advice (nasihah), consultation (shura), personal reasoning (ijtihad), and the liberty to censure government leaders.28 The latter is emphasized in Islam, as Muslims are advised that the best form of holy struggle is to express “a word of truth to a tyrannical ruler,”29 and that they should leave any community that fails to call a tyrant “tyrant.”30

Contemporary Iranians from different points on the political spectrum recognize this human right and its ability to preserve human dignity and develop a vibrant civil society. For example, at great personal cost, human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi defends those charged with crimes as a result of the expression of their opinions. Another example is Mohammad Khatami, a cleric who was President of Iran from 1997 to 2005. He explained: “What I mean by freedom is the freedom to think and the security to express new thinking, and instituting a protective system for the security of the free-spirited and of thinkers.”31

1.2.1. History of Expression in Iran Before the Internet

Expression has been a dominant part of Iranian culture for centuries. The Persian poetic tradition, both oral and written, is one of the most exceptional in the world, and its literature is considered by many to be a principle legacy of Iranian society.32 In addition, Iran has never lacked important contributors and dissidents in philosophy, religion, and politics.33 Although poetry prevailed over prose for centuries, critical expression of government and culture was historically integrated into fiction and literary criticism through careful use of subtlety and ambiguity.34 The influence of mass media, traditionally an agent of modernization, has played a significant role in the cultural and political development of Iran for only about a century.35

[24]Article 25 states: “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in Article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors; (c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.” International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 25, March 23, 1976, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 [hereinafter ICCPR].
[25]Robert W. Gauthier v. Canada, Communication No 633/1995, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/65/D/633/1995 ¶ 13.4 (5 May 1999).
[26]QURAN 55:1-4; see also MASHOOD A. BADERIN, INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS AND ISLAMIC LAW 126 (2003).
[27]MOHAMMAD HASHIM KAMALI, FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN ISLAM 15-16 (1997).
[28]Id. at 12.
[29]Id. at 11, 50.
[31]MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, ISLAM, LIBERTY, AND DEVELOPMENT 15 (1998).
[32]See NIKKI R. KEDDIE, MODERN IRAN: ROOTS AND RESULTS OF REVOLUTION 172 (2003).
[33]See id. at 173.
[34]See NAHID MOZAFFARI, STRANGE TIMES, MY DEAR, at xv-xvi (2005); KEDDIE, supra note 32, at 182.
[35]Rahimi, supra note 9, at 43.

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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