IRAN

Mullahs clamp down on "immoral" internet sites

More than five million "immoral" websites have been banned by the Iranian government. We asked two of our Iranian observers how and why the censors are muscling in on the country's internet users. Read more...

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Posted on Flickr by Mostafa Saeednejad.

More than five million "immoral" websites have been banned by the Iranian government. Included in the censorship operation are popular social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube as well as many news sites of all political persuasions.

With 19 million internet users, Iran is ranked in the top 20 countries in the world for internet use. Abdolsamad Khoram Abadi, advisor to Tehran's chief prosecutor, told the local press: "The enemies seek to assault our religious identity by exploiting the Internet." We asked two of our Iranian observers how and why the censors are muscling in on the country's internet users.

"There are internet users in Iran, such as myself, who know ways of working round the censorship"

Ali is a student in Tehran and is a regular internet user. He asked us not to reveal his real name.

To accuse western media of wanting to pervert the minds of ordinary Iranians is a false excuse for this censorship. In reality, what they want to do is survey the population more closely.

Iran has a very young population. There are many bloggers and for them the internet is a place where they are free to express themselves. This censorship is the result of state paranoia and their desire to “purify corrupted spirits” within the population. But, there are internet users in Iran, such as myself, who know ways of working round the censorship. Information technology evolves very quickly. There are always solutions."

"The regime wants to cut links between ordinary Iranians and the outside world"

Reza Moïni, an Iranian living in Paris, runs the human rights website bidaran.net.

The figure of five million is very high, but it is feasible that the regime is targeting this many. This is a PR exercise orchestrated by the authorities to send a clear message home to Iranian internet users. The regime has a long-standing habit of closely controlling communications. Before the internet era, mail and telephone conversations were closely monitored. The regime wants to cut links between ordinary Iranians and the outside world. Many so-called cyber dissidents, including women, have been arrested recently.

Different means are used to control internet users. For example, at an average of 128k, very slow download speeds can turn people off sites with rich content. I think Iran is the only country in the region to have such slow internet connections. The censors use software packages made by western companies to control web access and to block sites that do not please the regime. And because the state has control of most sales of IT equipment and internet access, it is very easy for the censors to have full control.

The very few privately owned Iranian ISPs have to impose the filters and controls that the state demands. State control is virtually total. There are very few IT specialists in the country who know how to work around it."