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

The years directly before and during the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911) are considered one of the relatively open periods for expression in Iran. During this period, essays critical of the government were published.36 Even after this period, mass media operated under fewer restrictions, and educational reforms fostered the growth of critical public debates about politics, religion, and society.37

In 1943, at a time when its population was only 750,000, there were 47 newspapers in Tehran. By 1951, there were 700 newspapers.38 However, after the Shah of Iran consolidated his power in 1953 and until just before the 1979 revolution that deposed him, newspapers were strictly controlled and monitored by the authorities.39 By the late 1960s, the monarchic regime controlled the media through several methods. It supported and promoted pro-monarchy editors-in-chief of newspapers, and required journalists to attend sessions where they were instructed on the censorship rules. The authorities had daily phone contact with editorial staff.40 Between 1974 and 1978, intelligence officers personally monitored the newspapers and “even oversaw the number of columns and the formatting of the pages.”41

This restriction on free expression was among the primary grievances that led to the 1979 revolution.42 Ali Shari’ati, the ideological father of the revolution, believed that society would wither as soon as contentions and contradictions were barred from the social arena.43 He asserted that freedom of thought and expression were hallmarks of the early years of Islam, and that hegemony led to repression and violence.44 He emphasized the first of two objectives that are served by freedom of expression: the discovery of truth and the upholding of human dignity.45

Ayatollah Khomeini was also concerned with the first objective when he noted that “[the] revolutionary system demands that various, even opposing, viewpoints be allowed to surface, [and] no one has the right to restrict this.”46 In an interview before the revolution, he promised that “in an Islamic government, all people have freedom to express any opinion.”47 The new Iranian Constitution provided that “[p]ublications and the press have freedom of expression except when it is detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public. The details of this exception will be specified by law.”48

[36]KEDDIE, supra note 32, at 182.
[37]MOZAFFARI, supra note 34, at xvi-xvii.
[39]ANJUMAN-I SINFIYIH RUZNAMIH NIGARAN-I IRAN, BARRISIYIH FA’ALIYAT-I MATBU’AT-I IRAN [ASSOCIATION OF IRANIAN JOURNALISTS, OVERVIEW OF THE ACTIVITIES OF IRAN’S PRESS] 19/11/1387 (February, 7 2009), available (in Persian) at http://rooznamenegar.ir/main.php?t=5&id=618 (last visited Apr. 17, 2009).
[40]TAHMURIS QASIMI, NIHZAT-I IMAM KHOMEINI VA MATBU’AT-I RIJIM-I SHAH [IMAM KHOMEINI’S MOVEMENT AND THE PRESS DURING THE SHAH] (2002), available (in Persian) at http://www.ghadeer.org/SIYASI/nehzat_a/fehrest.htm (last visited Apr. 17, 2009).
[41]Massoud Behnoud Chigunih Khabarnigar Shud [How Massoud Behnoud Became a Journalist], AFTAB, 8/8/1386 [October, 30 2007], available (in Persian) at http://www.aftab.ir/articles/applied_sciences/communication/c12c1193759921_masoud_behnoud_p1.php (last visited Apr. 17, 2009).
[42]Mehrangiz Kar, Constitutional Obstacles to the Realizations of Human Rights and Democracy in Iran (unpublished manuscript, on file with Scholars at Risk and Iran Human Rights Documentation Center).
[44]Id. at 137.
[45]KAMALI, supra note 27, at 8.
[46]KHATAMI, supra note 31, at 106.
[47]RUHOLLAH KHOMEINI, SAHIFIHYIH NUR [Vessel of Light], Vol. 3 (1983). See “Interview of Imam Khomeini with representative of Amnesty International,” 20/08/1375 [11/10/1978].
[48]Qanun-i Assasiyih Jumhuriyih Islamiyih Iran [Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran] 1358 [adopted 1979, amended 1989] art. 24 [hereinafter IRANIAN CONST.], available at http://iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/iraniancodes.htm.

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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