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

3.2. Post-Reformist Era

After the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in the summer of 2005, and with the conservatives firmly in control, the authorities recommitted to using technological and bureaucratic means to contain expression on the Internet. In May 2006, the Ministry of ICT announced the formation of an office charged with filtering unlawful content, identifying trouble users, and tracking the sites they visit.188

Prosecutor Mortazavi emphasized that illegal and anti-religious websites are under the Judiciary’s authority.189 Before the presidential election, Iran’s Telecommunications Company had ignored many judicial orders to block the social networking site Orkut and the blog hosting site Persian blog that were used by Iranians to set up personal pages and blogs.190 However, following Ahmadinejad’s election, officials from the same organization prided themselves on filtering 10 million websites and admitted that the Judiciary orders them to block about a thousand pages every month.191 Additionally, though the targeting of websites is the duty of the CCDUS, recent reports indicate that the intelligence office of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has set up its own cyber crimes office.192

Over the last few years, the blocking and filtering has become bolder, often targeting major news sites. For example, in early 2006, BBC’s Persian language Internet site was blocked for the first time.193 The trend continued, and in January 2009, the news sites of the Deutsche Welle, RFI and Al-Arabiya were targeted for filtration.194 Smaller Persian language news sites and websites continue to be regularly targeted as well. For example, the literary website Haftan and two sites supportive of Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor and a political rival of Ahmadinejad were blocked in early January 2009.195 A month later, in February 2009, two sites promoting the short-lived presidential bid of Mohammad Khatami were blocked.196 The websites Yaarinews and Yaari had been set up specifically in anticipation of Khatami’s candidacy, and though they were available from outside the country, they could not be accessed from within Iran.197

Under Ahmadinejad’s administration, there has also been a greater focus on slowing technological progress. On October 4, 2006, the Information Technology News Agency (ITNA), reported on an order by the Ministry of ICT that resulted in a limitation on high-speed access to the Internet.198 A week later, authorities confirmed that ISPs would no longer provide public or private users access at speeds higher than 128kb/s, claiming that higher speeds are unnecessary.199 There are reports of numerous exceptions for government offices and some private companies.200 ONI has pointed out that this order conflicts with Iran’s Five-Year Development Plan passed by the Majlis in 2004 that called for 1.5 million high-speed Internet ports throughout the country.201 The new order also hampered the private companies that had purchased licenses two years earlier and had since made heavy investments to provide broadband service to the private market.202

In an attempt to place an even greater burden on Internet expression and obtain a better map of Iran’s blogosphere,203 the MCIG issued a notice on January 1, 2007, requiring all owners of blogs and websites to register them within three months.204 The notice required registrants to provide personal information and commit to abstaining from posting some types of information. Under the notice, all blogs that failed to meet this deadline were to be considered illegal and could be shut down.205 Although some websites were shut down partly because they failed to register (including Baztab, a conservative news outlet),206 the registration campaign itself was generally unsuccessful and was quietly dropped after only a few bloggers complied.207

[188]See generally, OPENNET INITIATIVE, supra note 11.
[189]UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES, CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS IN IRAN, JANUARY 2005 3 (2006), available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/447fef1e4.html (last visited Apr. 23, 2009) [hereinafter JANUARY 2005 CHRONOLOGY].
[191]Mudir-i Kul-i Mudiriyat va Pushtibaniyih Fanniyih Shabakihyyih Shirkat-i Fanavariyih Ittila’at Khabar Dad: Filtering-i Bish az 10 Milyun Sayt-i Interneti/Bish az 90 Darsad-i Saythayih Filter Shudih Qayr-i Akhlaqi Budihnd/Mavarid-i I’tirazi bih Masdudsaziyih Saythayih Khabari, Ijtima’i va Siyasi Bazmigardad [The Filtering of More than 10 Million Internet Sites/More than 90 Percent of the Filtered Sites Were Immoral/Objections Related to the Shutting Down of News, Social and Political Sites, CITNA, 20/6/1385 [Sept. 11, 2006], available (in Persian) at http://www.citna.ir/435.html (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[192]Sipah-i Pasdaran ‘Shabakihhayih Barandaziyih Interneti ra Munhadim Kardih’ ast [The Revolutionary Guards Have ‘Destroyed Subversive Networks on the Internet’] BBC PERSIAN, 29/12/1387 [Mar. 19, 2009], available (in Persian) at http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2009/03/090319_he_pasdars_internet.shtml (last visited Apr. 23, 2009). The report discusses the IRGC’s arrest and detention of several individuals allegedly involved in using the Internet to promote a velvet revolution in Iran.
[193]OPENNET INITIATIVE, supra note 11, at 12-13.
[194]Press Release, Reporters Without Borders, More websites blocked, including RFI and Deutsche Welle ( Jan. 28, 2009), available at http://www.rsf.org/print.php3?id_article=30131 (last visited Apr. 23, 2009) [hereinafter More websites blocked].
[196]Iran Blocks Web Sites Promoting Reformist Khatami, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Feb. 21, 2009, available at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/02/21/world/main4817728.shtml?source=related_story (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[198]Internet-i Pursur’at Hanuz dar Dastris Nimibashad [High-Speed Internet is Still Not Available], ITNA, 24/11/1385 [Feb. 13, 2007], available at http://www.itna.ir/archives/report/006301.php (last visited Apr. 27, 2009).
[199]Id. The pubic affairs director of the office to coordinate radio regulations and communications said the order is temporary. Later, Soleymani, Minister of ICT, said the directive may be permanent. He encouraged people who have problems to report them to the MICT, but said that private home users don’t need speeds higher than 128 kb/s.
[200]Kahish-i Sur’at Barayih Internet-i Pursur’at dar Iran [Slowing Down High-Speed Internet in Iran], BBC PERSIAN, 28/7/1385 [Oct. 20, 2006], available at http://www.bbc.net.uk/persian/science/story/2006/10/061020_fb_rsh_adsl.shtml (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).
[201]OPENNET INITIATIVE , supra note 12, at 2.
[202]Slowing Down High-Speed Internet in Iran, supra note 200. Although it varies, a typical definition of broadband is a speed equal to or faster than 256 kbit/s. See http://www.oecd.org/document/7/0,3343,en_2649_34225_38446855_1_1_1_1,00.html
[203]The blogosphere refers to all publically available blogs covering all subject matters and their interconnections.
[204]This policy contrasts with the one based on the Press Law. The Press Law covers websites (news sites or blogs) that are regularly updated and reach an audience large enough for the authorities to consider them electronic publications.
[205]See OPENNET INITIATIVE, supra note 12, at 3.
[206]Baztab appealed to the Supreme Court and was reinstated. OPENNET INITIATIVE, supra note 12, at 4.
[207]Evan Derkacz, Iranian Bloggers Defy Censorship, ALTERNET, Jan. 12, 2007, available at http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/46639/?type=blog (last visited Apr. 23, 2009); Iran’s Bloggers Thrive Despite Blocks, BBC, Dec. 15, 2008, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7782771.stm (last visited Apr. 23, 2009).


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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