Iran censor protest coverage and is helped by company active in Europe
As the popular movements in Iran spread, the regime is trying to control the protests by cutting off Internet access. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns this repression and calls on Abr Arvan, the company responsible for the national network, to cease its collaboration with the regime in Tehran.
“The Iranian government is denying its citizens the right to find out what is happening in their country,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran-Afghanistan desk. “The government must stop trying to silence the latest sources of freely and independently reported news and information used by many Iranians, and must instead comply with its obligations with regard to international standards and must end all digital discrimination.”
RSF has learned that Internet access has been disrupted in many cities since the protests began in May. Initially triggered by cost of living increases, especially high prices for foodstuffs, the protests revived in response to the collapse of a 10-storey building on 23 May in Abadan, in which at least 30 people died.
Now international events are being used as a pretext for cracking down on the Internet, in particular, the G7 summit and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s visit to Tehran last weekend in a bid to revive the stalled Iran nuclear talks.
The Iranian authorities censor coverage of every major political event by means of a content distribution network linked to the country’s digital infrastructure. This network allows the Islamic Republic to control the online content to which its citizens have access.
Launched in 2011, the construction of an Iranian national Internet finally began making significant progress from 2017 onwards when Abr Arvan (Arvan Cloud in English), an Iranian online content delivery and cloud service company, got involved.
This company, which has a branch in Düsseldorf, has provided the infrastructure in which Iranians now access online content via the so-called national information network as part of the Shoma project. It is this distribution network that enables censorship.
“This network could allow the filtering of the content that Iranians can access,” said Vincent Berthier, the head of RSF’s Tech Desk. “This company, which is also active in Europe, therefore plays a de facto strategic role in controlling access to information in Iran. It must immediately cease its collaboration with the Iranian government, to which it provides the tools to impose its censorship.”
In order to force its citizens to fall back on this national network, the government has repeatedly increased the cost on an Internet connection with broadband access to foreign websites, thereby in practice imposing a digital apartheid between those who can and cannot afford a good connection.
The impact on access to information has been devastating. Since the wave of protests in early May, around 20 million Iranians in the south and southwest of the country have ceased to have access to international and Iranian news sites regarded as sources of “subversive counter-revolutionary” content, anti-government propaganda and “insulting to what is sacred.”
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intends to keep on invoking the divine will to censor the media and the Internet. During a meeting with the head of Judicial system of Iran and his teams on July 1, 2022, the ayatollah made several recommendations for reforming the country, all of which are based on the fact the idea that "God is the same in 1981 and in 2022". One of them is explicitly aimed at guarding Iranians against "false rumors" and other "frightening statements by strange or unknown individuals" in the media or on the Internet. These statements unambiguously encourage the implementation of a bill for a total Internet lockdown currently being ratified by the Iranian parliament. A previous project to control social networks had already been denounced by RSF in 2020.