By Staff Writer, Iran Probe
Wednesday, 9 March 2016
In Iran the entire press and media are associated to the state. Therefore, the importance of the Internet for the Iranian people, especially the youth and women to bypass news censorship, is unmatched anywhere in the world. Due to the high number of Internet and social media users the ruling regime places the utmost energy on monitoring the Iranian people’s only window open to the outside world, using various types of filtering methods and … to restrict and shut down access to the Internet for Iranians.
Restrictions on the Internet and Facebook in Iran:
The Iranian regime has a ruling Supreme Cyberspace Council established under orders issued by Iranian regime supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Members of this entity include the heads of three branches, commander of the Revolutionary Guards and police, ministers of intelligence and defense, along with heads of other repressive organs in Iran. Simultaneously, the mullahs have established a repressive unit named the Cyber Army. Through various intelligence and security follow-ups, and intimidating measures, parallel with monitoring the Internet, hunting down Internet activists, arrests, detentions and … the regime is known to use various types of filtering methods to keep a close watch on the Internet as a whole.
Another main barrier used by the Iranian regime to restrict Internet users in Iran is limiting the average bandwidth provided in Iran to 256 Kb. In this regard Iran is ranked 147th in the world, and 98th amongst 114 countries on mobile Internet download speed. Therefore, for many users any activity on Facebook or the Internet as a whole comes with long headaches.
Internet Devotion – War Against Filtering:
Iran was connected to the Internet in 1993. To this day the number of Internet users in Iran has continuously been on the rise. The number of mobile Internet users during the past two years alone has spiked from around 250,000 to over 20 million. Based on a population of 75 million in Iran it is estimated that 55,564,820 people are Internet users, according to the state-run Mehr news agency. The total number of Internet registered clients is recorded at 37,484,077. Iran’s population is currently near 80 million. As a result, this progressively increases to the abovementioned statistics.
This is an indication of how popular the Internet is in Iran and how people, and especially the youth, are eager to use the Internet. To this end there is an all-out war between Internet users and the ruling regime in Iran, forcing users to continuously resort to various anti-filtering software to bypass the regime’s filtering mechanisms. The Iranian people have established groups on Facebook providing services on anti-filtering software to confront the limitations imposed by the regime.
Social Media / Facebook
Social media is one of the most important methods of communications between the Iranian people, and topping the list is Facebook. Although we cannot provide a precise number of Facebook users in Iran, we do know that Iranians in the millions use Facebook to exchange information. Of course, it is worth noting that considering all the limitations imposed by the Iranian regime depriving Internet users of easy access and usage of this asset, Iranians are currently seeking communications methods to use with mobile phones and low bandwidths to keep in contact. Considering the social popularity of Facebook, it is necessary for this company to provide special access facilitation for Iranians to prevent users from drifting away from this asset. This is a serious part of the struggle against the Iranian regime, being the Godfather of fundamentalism, and most definitely people in Iran and the entire Middle East understand the precious value of this vital asset.
Women using the Internet and Facebook – Political & Social Reasons:
To provide an image of how many women use the Internet, social media and Facebook, we should refer to the remarks made by Hadianfar, an Iranian regime official of Iran’s cyber police, FATA, who recently said, “Unfortunately we are witnessing a 1% increase of female Internet criminals in the cyber atmosphere of our country, and police estimates show that from March to December of 2015 the percentage of female Internet criminals has increased from 15 to 16%.”
Arrests for using social media, Facebook & the Internet:
A significant number of Internet activists are arrested in Iran. For example, in July 2014 eight individuals arrested for posting anti-regime texts on Facebook were convicted to a total of 127 years behind bars.
- 723 individuals were arrested for cybercrimes in Tehran from March to December 2015, of which 609 were men and 114 were women.
- 25 June 2015 - A blogger was convicted to three years behind bars.
- 23 July 2016 - Ghazvin public prosecutor reported the arrested of a director of a Telegram group on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “publishing lies regarding the clergy” on the Internet.
- 16 December 2015 – Commander of police in the city of Bam reported the arrest of an individual who provided training on how to bypass filtering.
- 1 October 2015 – Commander of police in the city of Shahreza reported the arrest of 19 Internet activists.
- Hossein Ronaghi Malaki, an Iranian journalist sand founder of an anti-censorship group, was arrested for his membership in the “Iran Proxy” Internet group, a website providing support for Iranian Internet users on how to bypass online censorship. He was convicted to 15 years behind bars for propaganda against the state, and insulting the regime’s supreme leader and president.
- Mohammad Reza Pourshajari (aka Siamak Mehr), writer and blogger of “Report to Iran”, has been arrested and placed behind bars many times.
- Three college student bloggers were arrested in June 2015 in the cities of Shiraz and Ahvaz. These individuals were identified as Mostafa Safari, Farzeen Farzad and Mahmoud Salehi. Salehi, a known Facebook activists who also has a blog named “Equal View”, was arrested at his office in Ahvaz.
Senior regime officials & elements free to use Facebook – Restrictions for others:
For its own purposes senior regime officials and repressive organs are free to use social media. For example, the Iranian regime has effectively transformed WhatsApp to a network for its own terrorist agents in Syria against the Syrian people themselves. The Iranian regime is also known to spread enormous lies and resorting to all kinds of deceptive measures to demonize its opposition on Tweeter and other social media networks.
The regime is also known to use the Internet and social media to pump misleading information or its own fundamentalist propaganda on a wide scale. This regime also resorts to any lies and insults against its dissidents, especially the Iranian Resistance.
Iranian regime anti-Internet system & laws:
The Iranian regime has a number of parallel organs for its Internet crackdown purposes, including:
- Special court for computer crimes in Iran, linked to the judiciary, which itself is associated directly to Khamenei; Iran’s cyber police, known as FATA, linked to the regime’s main police entity.
- The notorious Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS/VEVAK) and Revolutionary Guards have established an organ called the Cyber Army.
In addition to the abovementioned issues, there are branches that patrol the internet environment and rat out users. The FATA chief of police recently announced that currently FATA has become operational in 130 cities and towns with more than 200 thousand populations and the digital experimental centers of this police are active in all provinces throughout the country. He announced: during 1700 days, over 28 thousand cyber criminals have been arrested. He also said that during 4 years of activity, FATA has identified more than 48 thousand websites that according to the regime are of criminal nature and they have been dealt with.
- The number of filtered websites in Iran skyrocket and there is no specific information about them. An advisor to the regime’s judiciary announced that up to 2008 some 5 million websites have been filtered.
Statistics of attacks on coffee nets, etc. especially Facebook users
Another way to accessing the internet in Iran is through coffee nets. Every day that goes by governmental and security organs become more sensitive about the users who refer to coffee nets.
The Tehran chief of police announced July 2013 that police agents in Tehran have carried out patrols and visits on 352 coffee nets. According to the statistics, from every 5 coffee nets they patrolled, one was closed down.
- The police have also assigned the internet services’ office to give the internet users’ personal information and ask them for credible ID documents and if they do not provide such documents, ban them from services.
- The internet service’ office is also assigned to install at least two cameras at their offices and in addition to the users’ ID information, store the time and date of use and the IPs and file logs and the searched websites for at least 6 months.
- In another remark Hossein Sajediniya, Tehran Chief of police, said on Saturday, 27 July 2015 that 67 coffee nets were closed down in one week as part of the first stage of implementing the local security plan on Tehran’s coffee nets during the year.