Iranian Censorship and Internet Filtering
The Iranian government claims that it is filtering and monitoring the Internet to provide a safe environment for its people, but is this the real intention?
Our evidence indicates strongly that, in reality, this filtering is nothing more than censorship designed to stop people accessing any areas which the Government does not want them to see and learn from and to prevent open communication, both inside Iran and with the outside world. Based on the evidence, the regime authorities are, in fact, doing everything they can to maintain a safe environment solely for themselves so that they can keep their grip on power.
With this aim, the Internet filtering and monitoring is focused on trying to stop people from:
- Learning about their human rights.
- Arranging protest gatherings and rallies
- Reporting local news and events to the rest of the world.
- accessing information providing the truth about Iranian and world history
- Learning about other countries.
- Learning about other cultures, music, films, food and dress.
- Learning about other faiths.
- Having a different opinion on politics.
They even delay the streaming of broadcasts such as world sporting events so that they can censor some of the scenes and images which, according to them, are “inappropriate”. This manipulation of the truth is designed to keep Iranian people closed-minded about western countries.
The image below is a familiar one to anyone in Iran trying to surf the Internet for anything interesting, informative, or uplifting.
Below is an elaboration on some of the reasons listed above for why and how the Iranian regime prevents people accessing information relating to activities they wish to suppress:
1. Stopping people from learning about their human rights
The Iranian government routinely blocks access to human rights websites and resources. The Iranian people, especially the Ahwazi Arabs, have very few human rights. From the Iranian government’s perspective, letting people learn about human rights is a huge threat to their survival, as each person who learns about their rights increases the chances of uprisings against their oppressors.
2. Stopping people from gathering to protest
The Iranian government has often used blocking to try and stop protests. For example, in 2009 after the results of the Iranian election were posted, the people decided to protest in outrage at what they considered a rigged outcome. However, hours before they could organise a proper protest the Iranian government showed how fearful it was of the prospect of people gathering that it blocked all forms of communication including the Internet, and mobile phones. In the event, these measures only delayed the inevitable and widespread protesting did take place until, it was eventually crushed by Iranian security forces.
3. Stopping people from reporting local news and events to the rest of the world
The Iranian government uses its filtering and monitoring systems to identify and prevent anybody reporting local news and events to others, especially foreigners. It is very quick to arrest and torture anybody it identifies who is letting the rest of the world know what is happening to them especially when it comes to human rights violations. There are many people in Iran who use a Virtual Private Network (also known as VPN) to spread news around the world as its end to end encryption preserves their anonymity However, there is always the risk of reprisals against the VPN provider itself.
4. Stopping people from accessing information regarding Iranian and world history
The true history of my people, the Ahwazi Arabs, has been altered to make the present regime look good. When I was growing up I never learnt about Al-Ahwaz history in the Iranian school history books, they taught me nothing about where we are from or what happened in the past. Even the great Sheikhs and Kings such as Khazal Khan al-Kaabi, Genghis Khan and Sultan Mohammad Shah were removed from the pages of our school histories.
5. Stopping people from learning about other faiths and cultures
There are many websites that are being blocked because they are promoting different religions. The Iranian authorities have also blocked websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and even Wikipedia. Internet censorship has been increasing every year especially since 2005 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president. Reporters Without Borders called Iran’s online censorship the ‘twelve enemies of the Internet’. Freedom House described Iran’s internet as the “least free” country after China which has the most blocked websites in the world.
Here are a few ranges of topics that have been blocked by the Iranian censorship:
- Human Rights
- Online Shopping
Iran introduced Smart Filtering a few years ago which enabled them to block just part of a website instead of having to block the whole site. Nowadays there are many websites that use Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) which means that all communications between a user’s browser and the website are encrypted and secure. So, when it comes to HTTPS the “Smart Filtering” become just another lie from President Hassan Rouhani and the Iranian regime as the site security and encryption means that the Iranian authorities have no way of finding out which specific pages a user has accessed.
However, the Iranian ISPs have implemented content control software which can capture exactly what the users are doing on the Internet if the communication is not encrypted. This information can be accessed at any time by The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC or Sepāh-e Pāsdārān-e Enqelāb-e Eslāmi Iran) or The Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic of Iran (also known as Vezarat-e Ettela’at Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran). Such information can also be gathered by The Iranian Cyber Police (also known as FATA) then passed to Sepah or Ettelaat. The Internet is mostly under the Islamic regime’s close control and there is no let-up in the persecution of people for their online activities. With Sepah and Ettelaat constantly monitoring people’s Internet use, they eventually find evidence to use against them and many political human rights bloggers have been arrested and tortured by Sepah and Ettelaat. The Iranian regime cracks down on any cyber criticism, accusing the Ahwazis and others of spreading propaganda via the internet. It seeks to impose a complete blackout on the plight of the Ahwazis but fails to keep a lid on the evidence as the internet has played a major role in raising awareness of the situation overseas.
A few trusted sources have been established by Ahwazi people where you can read more about the human rights violations against the Ahwazi Arabs by the Iranian regime:
Click here to read the Freedom House’s report on Iran’s Freedom on the Net 2016
There have been many Ahwazis who have faced imprisonment because of their online activities and whose IT devices such as personal Computers and mobile phones have been confiscated by the regime. Hashem Shabani, a great poetry writer who was publishing his poems in blogs, was one of those who was arrested and soon after executed, along with his fellow Ahwazi Arab, Hadi Rashedi. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Filtering Committee (CDICC), the Iranian Cyber Army (FATA), the Information and Communications Technology Ministry (ICT) and the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC) are the ones in charge of Iranian censorship, filtering and monitoring.
Interestingly, Iranian politicians such as President Hassan Rouhani, Javad Zarif and Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, all have their own accounts on Facebook and Twitter to promote their policies and ideology. If Facebook, Twitter and other social media are as bad and corrupting as they say, why are they themselves using them?
To me that fact alone serves to back up the points I have made in this article about the real reasons the regime is blocking and censoring the Internet, for their own advantage, Otherwise, If they can use the Internet without restriction, It is only fair that they remove all the censorship and filtering for everyone. The Smart Filtering is broken. The system is broken. Iran is broken. It is time to throw away the broken pieces and the regime that is behind them and build a new and better place for our people to live and communicate freely with whoever they choose.
By Hossein Bouazar