In an interview with the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency, Iranian MP Reza Taghipour shed light on a new bill in the parliament which would ban foreign messengers if passed. The June 6 interview was later removed from Tasnim.
Reza Taghipour, who is the Head of Cyberspace in the election campaign of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi’s, said the bill had been signed by 170 MPs, and would be checked by the Cultural Commission before public examination in the Parliament.
According to other state-run websites, the new bill would “ban foreign messengers in Iran, unless they abide by the laws of the Islamic Republic”. It also says that all internet users must be identified, people who distribute VPNs and other types of anti-filtering tools will be sentenced to prison and fines and that all messages will be controlled when a user “starts” committing crimes against the state.
The bill also emphasizes that all domestic and foreign messenger apps must be approved by a “supervising board”, otherwise it is illegal, and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology can block the app.
“Foreign messenger” apps include Instagram, Whatsapp, and Facebook, among others.
Ban of foreign messengers coincidental?
Social media reports indicate this bill is not coincidental as the June 18 presidential elections draw close. Many believe the bill will pave the way for a severe internet crackdown once Raisi becomes president, although Reza Taghipour, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology during the government of Ahmadinejad, denied the interview with Tasnim.
Taghipour said he would sue the people who “spread these rumors”.
It is highly unlikely that the detailed bill was just rumor. There have been previous reports of filtering by regime officials.
On May 20, an internet freedom activist tweeted that confidential letters were leaked from Iran, revealing orders by the deputy head of Tehran’s Justice Department to filter Instagram, Google Play, and VPNs. About an hour after the letter was leaked, the Judiciary backed down from the order, implying the deputy head of Tehran’s Judiciary, Javidnia, was not authorized to write such a letter.
On May 23, a Kurd journalist identified as Kaveh Najaf was detained in the western province of Ilam for writing a piece that was critical of Ebrahim Raisi.
There are also reports that the intelligence agents in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have contacted several social media activists, threatening them not to post content that criticizes Raisi, otherwise they will be in “trouble”.
Security police and Iran’s Cyber Police (FATA) have also contacted many activists, putting them under pressure because of their stance.