Iran Regime's Internet Censorship Debate Grows Harsher
By Mohammad Sadat Khansari
The Attorney General of the Iranian Regime has criticised "out of control cyberspace" in Iran, described popular messaging apps Telegram and Instagram, as "infernal", and called for restrictions on social media.
Mohammad Jafar Montazeri also threatened the Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, with judicial consequences, if he failed to implement the internet reforms demanded by the judiciary, which include the launching of a “national internet”.
Montazeri, who made these comments on Saturday when introducing Ali Alghasi-Mehr, the newly appointed Prosecutor-General of Tehran, said that cyberspace has its benefits but is filled with “corrupt” activities.
He had previously called for internet restrictions, but this is the first time that he issued such a warning to Jahromi. He later downplayed the threat by calling Jahromi to a debate to answer questions.
He said: “I call on the Communication Minister to appear on TV along with an expert that I will name to answer why they haven’t done anything to launch a national intelligence network demanded by the supreme leader, and why they haven’t implemented the Cyberspace Supreme Council enactments.”
Alghasi-Mehr also criticised the internet for providing a space to question the Iranian Regime’s values.
Of course, many senior Iranian officials, including Montazeri, actually have social media accounts of their own, despite many of the sites being banned in Iran. Instagram is currently not banned in Iran, but the site suspended many accounts belonging to top officials after the US designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group.
Iran blocked access to social media apps, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, following the 2009 protests and blocked Telegram and (temporarily) Instagram, following the 2017 uprising as these apps allow protesters to communicate with each other and the outside world.
In April, Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali, the head of the Islamic Republic's Passive Defense Organization (PDO), said that controlling social media during a crisis should "seriously be considered" arguing that they “provoke people against the government”.
However, Iranians have found ways around this, including by using VPNs and proxy servers.
Because of Iran regime’s restrictions, several international organizations have condemned the Regime for infringing of freedom of speech. Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran 170th out of 180 countries for media freedom and even President Hassan Rouhani admitted in February that there is "no free media in Iran".
Yet still, the Regime seems keen to attack internet access as unrest continues to grow across Iran. Mullah Nasser Makarem Shirazi recently called the internet a “swamp” and insisted that it was the leading cause of divorce.