By Jubin Katiraie
Once upon a time, the ayatollahs frequently blamed citizens for watching satellite TV. Authorities continuously issued circulars and warnings, and state security forces were attacking people’s homes and literally throwing satellite dishes and devices down from rooftops.
Tantamount to the Nazis’ “book burning” ceremonies, the ayatollahs prevented the society from accessing free information. Furthermore, they used armored vehicles and tanks to crush and scrap impounded satellite dishes and other devices to fasten their pillars.
There are no longer discussion over satellite and their critical threats to the rulers. Today, smartphones have replaced satellite TV stations and they have found their way to millions of Iranians, and into schools, universities, workplaces, offices, markets, and metros.
In other words, each smart phone-holder is now considered a citizen reporter, and everyone can share fresh and detailed reports and news with others instantly, and not only inside Iran but across the globe.
It is worth noting that the ayatollahs never had any problem with immoral issues on the internet or what was wired by satellite TV stations. Otherwise, many Iranian citizens testified that the Iranian cyber army promotes indecent footage on cyberspace to extinguish the young generations’ protests against the entire ruling system. On the other hand, through a complicated technique, the ayatollahs claim spreading immoral footage is anti-establishment .
However, authorities’ main concern is over the revelation of their human rights violations, brutal suppression, corrupt cases, spending national preserves on funding extremist proxies across the Middle East region and destroying the country’s natural resources. In this respect, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology usually blackout the internet parallel to when social protests ignite.
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However, the Iranian theocratic rule suffers from another problem about the opposition’s activities. Officials often mention the risk of “Albanian-dwellers,” a reference to members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI), against the Islamic Republic regime’s survival. They openly reveal their concerns over the MEK’s growing popularity among youths and women.
“The situation is not like two decades ago when it was possible to manage and control events and the news. The era of soft warfare has long since begun. One side of this full-fledged war is the Islamic Republic of Iran and on the other side are its enemies and opponents. Something like the eight-year [Iran-Iraq] war, except that that was ‘hard’ warfare and this is ‘soft’ warfare,” wrote Resalat daily on August 23.
For many years, the Iranian government had monopolized the internet and spread misinformation to tarnish the opposition’s reputation. Using its vast propaganda apparatus and cyber army, the ayatollahs had inverted history and injected fake news. However, in recent years, they see the MEK as a strong contender that exposes their lies and provides the truth for the general public.
“Do the media in the country believe in this battle? What about the country’s decision-makers? The Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] had previously warned about the soft warfare, which the news media is undoubtedly playing a leading role in. The Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, cultural sectors in the government, the Majlis [Parliament], and other governing institutions must answer what they have done for this great battle? Do they not see the country’s official media’s declining situation in the face of the growing flow of informal media?” Resalat added.
Therefore, the theocratic rule planned to launch a full-fledged competition against cyberspace. In this context, 40 members of the Majlis (parliament) submitted a plan to filter all messaging apps in Iran to the presidium. The project also imposes a series of restrictions on social media activists, including the authentication of all account holders, the prohibition of using filter breaker software, and severe sentences like imprisonment and fine for offenders.
The government that faces a massive budget deficit also seeks to gain more economic profits from such plans. In this regard, “reformist” figure Abbas Abdi shed light on the flipside of the MPs’ scheme.
“Filtering is not a true name for the MPs’ motion, but the true name is distributing, supplying, selling filter breakers, increasing the internet traffic volume, and more profits for operators. In fact, this is an economic plan, not political or cultural; however, it has been exposed as a cultural and media plan. The fact that there is an economic plan to gain more profits,” Etemad website quoted Abdi as saying on August 5.
However, nowadays, it seems impossible that the government would be able to contain public ire with such actions and plans. Moreover, several MPs who submitted the plan actively participate in social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Telegram. In a chart, the Etemad website revealed that tens of the plan’s signatories are among the most active Iranian accountholders on twitter.
They include Ali Khezrian, Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Jabbar Kouchakinezhad, Fatemeh Mohammadbeygi, Moosavi Largani, Hossein Ali Hajideligani, Mehdi Roshanfekr, Javad Karimi Qoddussi, Eghbal Shakeri, Jalal Rashidikoochi, Abdolkarim Jamiri, Ali Yazdikha, Behroz Mohebbi, Mahdi Sharifiyan, Abolfazl Abotoraby, Jafar Ghaderi, etc.
Caption: Etemad website published the name of MPs who supported the filtering plan
The plan also raised enormous objections among current and former officials. Additionally, several media outlets criticized the plan and planers and described the MPs’ intention as an oppressive path. “In today’s world, it is impossible to build a wall around the country,” wrote Hamdeli daily on August 26.
“The mistake made in addressing satellite TV stations must not be repeated in dealing with the internet. The restrictions should not be applied because it is impossible to confront technology. Technology will find its way as water does,” Hamideli added.
Furthermore, in its August 26 print, Etemad daily issued a warning and rejected various security explanations. “The aftermath of such plans is fabricated messaging apps that [are not welcomed by the people]. They would bring no security. In contrast, with filtering, protesters will opt to show their protests in the streets.”