Internet policing will continue

Iranian officials have scorned the labelling of this country by a journalists’ rights watchdog as one of the world’s 13 Internet ‘black holes’ and said they will continue to protect what they claim are the morals of society.

In a report released earlier this month, the Paris-based Reporters Without Frontiers had named Iran, along with countries like China, Belarus, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, as ‘enemies’ of the Internet for restricting access to it and jailing cyber journalists and bloggers.

Reacting, the secretary to Iran’s Informatics High Council said that this country defines its values differently from those in the West. “If freedom of speech is against cultural values, it must be prevented. All countries in the world use filtering because freedom (of speech) shouldn’t turn into (freedom of) prostitution,” he was quoted as saying by the Iranian Labour News Agency.

More than one-tenth of Iran’s 70 million people use the Internet and the figure is increasing very rapidly. Cyber cafes have for several years been popular hangouts for young people who use the net to chat, find new music and films, and also for news and research.

Iran recently banned broadband Internet connections for home users as well. The ban serves to prevent downloading of Western cultural products like music and films. This

was confirmed by a deputy of the telecommunications ministry who said that “illegal use of broadband Internet service was the reason for the ban.”

“It is true that the largest number of filtered sites contain pornographic or ‘immoral’ content, but Internet filtering applies even more strictly to sites with political, social and ‘non-conformist’ religious contents,” says Arezoo (second name withheld), a student of political science at Tehran University. “Try searching for anything related to human rights, dissident political groups and individuals or women’s rights, and you will invariably encounter the words ‘access denied’. Not even one news portal or site affiliated to reformist political groups and parties, or any of those run by dissidents outside Iran, has survived banning,” she said. “Officials claim filtering targets porn. Emrouz, a reformist news portal, doesn’t include any immoral content but it has been filtered for nearly three years now. So is Rooz, a Europe-based Internet newspaper.

Depending on the circumstances, even conservative news sites can also be banned without any good cause. A good example is Entekhab, a conservative site that has been filtered on and off for some time now,” she added. “Filtering has made it easier to control cyber journalism and bloggers without resorting to such extreme measures as putting them in jail and torturing them. Filtering makes things look cleaner to the outside world and causes less pressure from human rights bodies,” the student said.

Internet is a favourite medium of communication for women’s rights activists, too. All online publications of women’s rights groups are strictly filtered, but activists do not relent so easily. Meydane Zanan, a site set up by a group of campaigners for abolition of stoning, was filtered recently.

“We have changed the address to be able to reach our audience, and will change it again if this one is filtered too,” Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, one of the organisers of the anti-stoning campaign, said. — IPS