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The right to information in Iran

Internet Censorship in Iran

The right to information in Iran

Ahmed ShaheedThe report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed. Submitted in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 25/24  to the 69th session of the UN General Assembly  in October 2014.

  • The Islamic Republic of Iran accepted 13 recommendations regarding freedom of opinion and expression during its consideration by the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review in 2010. They included recommendations to amend laws to uphold the internationally guaranteed rights of free speech and a free press and to guarantee the protection of civil and political rights for all, in particular dissidents and members of minority groups (see A/HRC/14/12). The Human Rights Committee also expressed concern regarding freedom of expression, monitoring of Internet use and content, blocking of websites carrying political news and analysis, slowing down of Internet speeds and jamming of foreign satellite broadcasts by the Government (see CCPR/C/IRN/CO/3, para. 27).
  • Recently, several high-ranking government officials have made public  statements in support of increased press freedom. They called for a relaxation of  censorship in favour of an environment wherein healthy criticism would be tolerated and encouraged. Nevertheless, laws and policies continue to place overly broad restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. The Press Law (1986) continues to restrict content that is prejudicial to Islamic codes or that might damage the “foundation” of the Islamic Republic, offend government officials or religious figures or undermine the Government’s definition of decency.
  • In its response, the Government maintained that the Press Law outlawed only “criminal” activity and that, while a few journalists had been detained, thousands of others were freely practising their profession.
  • At least 35 journalists are currently in detention in the country. Reports continue to allege harassment, interrogations and surveillance of many others. On 10 November 2013, two journalists, Masoud Kordpour and Khosro Kordpour, were convicted of “gathering and colluding against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system” for such journalistic activities as conducting interviews with the foreign media about the situation of human rights in Kordestan Province. They were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of six and three and a half years, respectively, at a trial that allegedly failed to meet fair trial standards. In November 2013, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention classified the detention of the brothers as arbitrary and called for their unconditional release. A group of special procedures mandate holders also raised this concern with the Government through a communication.
  • Between June and August 2014 alone, several journalists, including Saba Azarpeik, Mehdi Khalazi, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi, were arrested and three others, Reyhaneh Tabatabaei, Mahnaz Mohammadi and Marzieh Rasoulis, were summoned to begin serving prison sentences. Several others, including Seraj Miramadi, Farideh Shahgholi and Hossein Nourani Nejad, received new prison sentences during the period.
  • The managers of the company that owns the website Narenji, Ali Asghar Honarmand, Abbas Vahedi, Alireza Vaziri, Nassim Nikmehr, Maliheh Naghaei, Mohammad Hossein Mousazadeh and Sara Sajadpour, were sentenced in December 2013. It was maintained that they were involved with foreign media networks and intelligence agencies, including BBC Persian and MI6. On 20 June 2014, officials announced sentences of between 1 and 11 years of imprisonment for 11 other individuals for allegedly “designing sites, websites and creating content for media hostile to the regime”.
  • Recent cases regarding several other Internet users underscore a pattern of continuing general repression of freedom of expression and, in some cases, freedom of movement. In May 2014, eight Facebook commenters were sentenced to a combined 123 years in prison for blasphemy, insulting the Supreme Leader and spreading propaganda against the system, among other charges, for criticizing government policies, supporting political protests and participating in social satire and other alleged activities on Facebook. For example, a dual British-Iranian citizen, Roya Nobakht, was reportedly arrested at the airport when she arrived in the Islamic Republic of Iran to visit family after posting comments about the Government on Facebook while living in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. She was sentenced, along with Mir Golestani, to 20 years in prison.
  • Iranian officials have made public statements in which they referred to impending Internet infrastructure improvements that would yield higher speeds for users by September 2015. Moreover, the country’s fifth five-year development plan proposes measures to establish a national Internet in an effort to increase speed by investing in national infrastructure and web-hosting.
  • Severe content restrictions, intimidation and prosecution of Internet users and limitations on Internet access through throttling and filtering persist, however. Some 5 million websites remain blocked. The top 500 blocked websites include many dedicated to the arts, social issues, news and those ranked in the top tiers of popularity nationally (see A/68/503 and following figure). In its response to the draft report, the Government noted that it “(like many countries) blocks all immoral websites in the arts or social groups”.

Number of blocked websites in Iran by category

  • Two blog hosting platforms, WordPress and Blogspot, are 96 and 98 per cent filtered, respectively. Social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the popular messaging application WeChat are, according to ASL19, also blocked. The authorities have alleged that there is a link between rates of divorce and increased use of WeChat and other messaging applications. The number of Persian-language blogs has been declined significantly since 2008.

Number of Persian-language blogs per year

  • Lastly, budgetary allocations for the implementation of information technology and national security tasks by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security were increased by 87 per cent for the 2014/15 fiscal year, raising concerns regarding potential increased censorship. The details of the plan are not yet clear, however.

Download the full report A-69-356

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