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

However, by 1981, the Islamic Republic was quashing expression with which it disagreed. Iran was at war with Iraq, and the regime justified its restrictions by claiming they were part of the war effort.49 A distinction was made between insiders and those who thought differently, and the government ordered books by the latter group banned. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (MCIG) began rationing paper and used content approval of books, newspapers and magazines as the criterion for allowances.50

Despite these efforts, the regime has never enjoyed absolute control over mass media. Domestic television and radio are under state control, and Article 175 of the Constitution assures that “the appointment and dismissal of the head of the radio and television of the Islamic Republic of Iran rests with the Leader.” Still, foreign news agencies such as Radio Farda, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and various opposition groups have successfully broadcast their radio signals into Iran since the beginning of the revolution.51 Another important limitation on the regime’s monopoly is created by satellite dishes, which, though illegal, are ubiquitous in urban areas and connect their users to television from all over the world.52

Although some commentators justified suppression and censorship of secular publications through the need for public order, this justification became more tenuous as the nineties progressed.53 Labeling critics as anti-Islamic became meaningless in light of the fact that many of the new critics seeking reform were prominent clerics and radical Islamists such as Mohammad Musavi Khu’iniha54 and Professor Abdolkarim Soroush.55 The Islamists’ criticism was substantially the same as criticism that had come from more secular sources, such as a group of intellectuals who, in 1994, openly asked for an end to censorship.56 As publicly recognized by even anti-reform newspapers like Resalat, these concerns included ending “political monopoly, repression and stifled freedoms.”57

By 1997, this type of criticism in the mass media was common in Iran and inspired a new generation of journalists and activists to claim their rights to free expression. One journalist noted that

[a] new form of press was created that did not fear retaliation by the government and provided information defiantly. In fact, I would go a step further and say that it was such newspapers that removed the fear of imprisonment, torture, etc. from the heart of journalists. I myself feared retaliation by the regime but after seeing the example of Mashallah Shamsolvaezin,58 who always had a bag ready to take with him to prison, my fears disappeared.59

[49]See KAR, supra note 42, at 26.
[50]U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, ¶ 64, U.N. Doc. A/45/697 (Nov. 6, 1990).
[51]Iran: Country Profile, BBC, Mar. 11, 1009, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/country_profiles/790877.stm (last visited Apr. 27, 2009).
[52]Id.
[53]See generally AFSHARI, supra note 4, at 185-232.
[54]Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Mousavi Kho’iniha is the General Secretary of the Association of Combatant Clerics and a member of the Expediency Council. He was the founder of the now banned Salam newspaper, leader of the Muslim Students Following the Line of the Imam who stormed the U.S. Embassy in 1979, and formerly held the position of Prosecutor General of Iran during the first decade after the revolution. MARK BOWDEN, GUESTS OF THE AYATOLLAH: THE FIRST BATTLE IN AMERICA’S WAR WITH MILITANT ISLAM 13, 627 (2006); GENIEVE ABDO AND JONATHAN LYONS, ANSWERING ONLY TO GOD 187 (2003).
[55]Abdolkarim Soroush is an academic, philosopher and a well-known figure in the religious intellectual movement in Iran. Appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini to the precursor of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, Abdolkarim Soroush was a driving force behind the expulsion of a significant number of academics and students from universities who he felt lacked the necessary religious credentials. He left Iran in 2000 after he was targeted as a reformer by the regime’s conservative establishment. See AFSHARI, supra note 4, at 190-91.
[56]The open letter was presented under the heading “We Are Writers,” and was signed by 143 writers and activists including Shirin Ebadi. SHIRIN EBADI, IRAN AWAKENING: A MEMOIR OF REVOLUTION AND HOPE 130 (2006).
[57]See AFSHARI, supra note 4, at 193.
[58]Editor of Jami’i newspaper.
[59]Witness Statement of Arash Sigarchi, prepared by IHRDC and approved by witness (January 11, 2009), ¶ 2 [hereinafter Witness Statement of Sigarchi]. IHRDC interviewed Sigarchi on October 23, 2008. A copy of the Statement is on file with IHRDC.

 

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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