In crackdown on protests, Iranian regime targets freedom to inform

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Iranian regime’s arrests of around ten citizen-journalists in the past few days and the restrictions it has imposed on access to social networks an attempt to censor information about a wave of protests throughout the country.

Some 60 cities throughout Iran have now been affected by the anti-government protests, in which around 1,000 people have been arrested since they began six days ago, according to various Iranian sources.

Although President Hassan Rouhani promised more freedom during his election campaign, the authorities have been carrying out targeted raids and arrests in order to identify and neutralize dissident networks and to intimidate journalists.

Four citizen-journalists who work for the Majzooban Nor website – Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam, Mohammad Reza Sharifi, Faezeh Abdipour and Kasra Nouri – were the subject of heavy-handed arrests by intelligence ministry agents on 31 December and were taken to Tehran’s Evin prison. Nouri previously served a three-year jail sentence from 2012 to 2015.

In all, around ten citizen-journalists have been arrested, according to the information gathered by RSF. Some of these arrests were filmed by persons who were themselves then arrested, as seen in a video posted on journalist and human right activist Masih Alinejad’s Facebook page.

It was partly to prevent this kind of video footage from circulating on social networks that Internet access was partially or totally disconnected on the night of 31 December. The authorities also blocked access to Instagram and the instant messaging app Telegram. Telecommunications minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahormi accused Telegram, which has 40 million users in Iran, of encouraging an “armed uprising.”

Telegram founder Pavel Durov pointed out on Twitter that, on 30 December, Telegram had itself shut down one if its channels, Amadnews, which was showing its subscribers how to use Molotov cocktails against the police. According to Durov, the Iranian authorities nonetheless began blocking access to the entire app the next day because it had refused to shut all opposition channels that use Telegram, including those calling for peaceful protests.

Durov noted in a tweet yesterday that, while Telegram and Signal are still being blocked by the Iranian authorities, WhatsApp continues to be accessible. Facebook and Twitter have been inaccessible in Iran since 2009.

RSF condemns this latest crackdown on the freedom to inform in Iran and calls on Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, and David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to intercede quickly to protect Iranians’ fundamental rights.

The Iranian government must adhere to the undertakings it has given to respect international standards, including those established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency responsible for information and communication technologies.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been on RSF’s list of “Enemies of the Internet” for the past 15 years. The regime fears the circulation of freely and independently reported news and information, which it regards as attempted “subversion.”

As the traditional media are censored and controlled, it is citizen-journalists active on social networks who play a key role in political change in Iran. But trying to thwart the regime’s determination to maintain a blackout on news and information is not without risk. RSF is aware of at least 94 arrests of Internet users in 2017, including Telegram users. Around 20 are currently detained.

At the same time, the regime has not abandoned the idea of establishing a “Halal Internet” – a national online information network – and is already using “intelligent filtering” to restrict and control access to the Internet, especially to social networks.

The authorities recently violated the principle of net neutrality by introducing different connection charges for the national and international Internets. Access to the international Internet now costs more than access to the censored and monitored national (or “Halal”) Internet.

Iran is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Published on
Updated on 03.01.2018