Thursday, July 24, 2014


Persian Letters

Are Millions Of Iranians Criminals?

"We have to and will take any necessary measure to confront this soft war," said Reza Taghipour, Iran's telecommunications minister.
"We have to and will take any necessary measure to confront this soft war," said Reza Taghipour, Iran's telecommunications minister.
Are millions of Iranians criminals?

Yes, according to an announcement by Iranian Telecommunications Minister Reza Taghipour, who says the use of antifiltering tools and virtual private networks (VPN) is a crime.

Many Iranians use such tools and proxies on a daily basis to bypass the country's Internet censorship, which is among the world's toughest. Iran blocks millions of websites and blogs deemed immoral or against the country's national interests or that offer uncensored news and information.

One of the blocked websites is Facebook, which is used by 17 million Iranians, according to statistics from a Basij militia official.

A satellite dish on a rooftop in Iran's Kurdistan Province
A satellite dish on a rooftop in Iran's Kurdistan Province
"Based on the law, the use of VPNs or other antifiltering software is forbidden and considered a crime," said Taghipour, who also said Tehran was able to counter the new antifiltering tools.

In recent years, officials in Iran have increased their warnings over the use of the Internet, an empowering tool for political activists and human rights advocates who use it to spread news about state repression.

Taghipour, speaking to Iran's semiofficial ISNA news agency, said antifiltering tools were part of what Iranian officials describe as the "soft war" being waged by Western countries against the Islamic republic.

Earlier this month, Iranian web users reported difficulties accessing their VPN accounts. State news agencies reported that officials had ordered the disabling of VPN connections.

"We have to and will take any necessary measure to confront this soft war," Taghipour told ISNA.

He also said measures had been taken to intercept banking data operations that are being conducted in Iran through VPNs.

Iranian journalist Hadi Nili says most Iranian government agencies use VPNs to ensure safe Internet connections. He says companies owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) sell VPN accounts.

Nili added the government has been targeting "safe VPN" connections that citizens are accessing through nonstate companies.

"The IRGC and the government cannot monitor those VPNs. Therefore, they want to disrupt them and limit their use. Technically it is difficult. There will always be new ways to bypass measures by the government," says Nili, who was forced to leave Iran about a year ago amid the ongoing postelection crackdown.

A 42-year-old engineer in the Iranian capital who uses a VPN to access banned websites tells "Persian Letters" he will continue browsing the web through anticensoring tools.

"We would have to stop living if we were to listen to [the Iranian authorities]. Everything is banned, according to them. The Internet is like fresh air for me. So is my satellite dish," he said.

Iranian authorities have also declared a ban on satellite dishes, which allow access to Western television channels. The ban has so far failed to stop Iranians from using them.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

Tags: internet freedom

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Reza from: Australia
October 25, 2011 21:23
Are millions of Americans criminals? Yes, according to authorities in the US who say it is illegal to download pirated movies and music on the internet. What a silly story.
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 26, 2011 14:55
Reza, VNPs and antifiltering software is about free access to information. Waaaay more important than pirated movies, don't you think?!
In Response

by: Reza from: Australia
October 26, 2011 21:48
You can make that argument and I would agree it's an important issue. But the way the article was written is very one-sided and almost reads like a media release written by an anti-Iran agency. Is this an opinion piece or a news story? Personally, I've had enough of the propaganda filled "news articles" published by western media sources.

Every country has its laws and national security concerns. Following the September 11 attacks in New York, many democracies in the west amended legislation in a way that impacted "civil liberties" and personal freedoms. They were arguably justified to do so. In Iran, the same argument can be made, that these laws exist for national security reasons. Iran has argued that some online sites are being used to destabilise the government. Now, you could argue that this is a good thing. But essentially, every government in the world is primarily concerned with its own survival and stability.

I'd prefer news sites, like this one, to be more fair and balanced with their reporting and not be so naive.
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 27, 2011 12:39
I actually think the article makes a good point, these stupid rules turn millions of people into criminals. It is the same with satellite dishes. I just got back from a visit to Tehran, and Isfahan. Satellite dishes are everywhere.
In Response

by: Owen from: US
October 27, 2011 15:16
That argument is entirely unfounded. First, you are equating a government concerned with "national security" with an oppressive government. National security would imply either defending against threatening foreign agencies or against relatively small pockets of violent/radical groups within one's own country that pose a serious threat to the lives of citizens in that country. However when a government is attempting to defend itself against the vast majority of its own people it is not a matter of national security! It is a matter of oppression, which is something no government in the world has a right to employ.

Second, you equate Iran's censorship campaign with the measures the US took after 9/11. I will not attempt to argue about whether those measures were justified or not. I personally thought they were however that's an entirely different argument. Regardless, the measures the US took were primarily the implementation of listening mechanisms (wire tapping, email hacking, etc.). The motivation of these mechanisms was to protect against dangerous entities within the US. You cannot equate these measures with the Iranian censorship campaign, of which the motivations are to keep uncensored and often truthful information out of reach of Iranians. The information Iran blocks is not only coming from America or the West but from all over the world, including and especially the Middle East.

You make the argument that every government is concerned with its own survival. However a government that is attempting to survive in the face of its own people is contradictory in its foundation. Any government exists for the sole purpose of maintaining and improving the welfare of its people, and democratic governments (which Iran claims to be) are merely an extension of their people, and have no claims to any sovereignty independent of their people. When a government betrays these standards it does not have the right to survive. So, these arguments against Iranian oppression you say are somehow "Western propaganda" are actually supported by universal institutions. I don't see how articles revealing the blatant and unrelenting oppression of the Iranian people are "naive", especially this article which reports an Iranian official calling the millions of citizens "criminals" for obtaining access to censor-free information.


by: Ali from: Tehran
October 26, 2011 01:05
Not millions, all Iranians according to Iran's leaders except for Khamenei and a few others.
In Response

by: Reza from: Australia
October 27, 2011 20:11
"National security would imply " ... "relatively small pockets of violent/radical groups"

- Many people believe in Iran believe there are some "relatively small pockets" or "radicals" that have been responsible for terrorist bombings, assassinations, sabotage and colluding with Iran's enemies during times of war. Some of these (and other) "small pockets" were involved in trying to turn the presidential election protests into riots. They killed security officers and civilians, burned buildings down and used live weapons and bombs on ordinary civilians. I wonder what the US government would do in the face of such "peaceful protests". Oh wait - don't you guys like have an "Occupy Wall Street" movement right now? What's the police response been there? I wonder what will happen if the protesters in NY adopt the methods of Iran's "relatively small pockets"?

"However when a government is attempting to defend itself against the vast majority"

- Are you convinced that it's "the vast majority" of Iranians that are fighting to topple the government? Is this just a hunch you get? If you get the sense that it's that way from the western media reports, I don't blame you.

"Regardless, the measures the US took were primarily the implementation of listening mechanisms (wire tapping, email hacking, etc.)."

- It's funny (and tragic) how you, an apparent champion of civil liberties, is glossing over these gross violations of personal freedoms! This shows your double-standards! So, the Iranian people deserve your advocacy and not your own???

"However a government that is attempting to survive in the face of its own people is contradictory in its foundation. "

- Again, you make massive claims based on a hunch and perhaps a few articles you've read.

"When a government betrays these standards it does not have the right to survive. "

- I can make the same argument for many western democracies. Look at the mess they've left their own people, economically and socially, let alone the mess they have left in the Middle East. Surely, they have done more harm than a country like Iran.

"So, these arguments against Iranian oppression you say are somehow "Western propaganda" are actually supported by universal institutions."

- Which "universal institutions"? The UN?? Amnesty? The EU? NATO? "World leaders"?? You mean, the ones that walk out when Ahmadinejad speaks at the UN? The ones that condemn Iran to sanctions the minute the US makes allegations (untested in court) that Iran was sponsoring a hit on a Saudi diplomat? The ones that supported Saddam Hussein against my people with weapons, money and intelligence and then conveniently supported a war to topple the men? And the one's that turned a blind eye to false intelligence to support such a war? Have all these measures improved your economy? Avoided a recession? And kept you safe?

Maybe you should join the growing voices of dissent in your own country rather than standing up for "the oppressed people of Iran" to their own lives.

The day you people stop sticking your noses into other people's problems and worried about your own, we will all be better off.
In Response

by: Owen from: US
October 28, 2011 15:28
You misunderstood what I meant by institutions. An institution is not necessarily a tangible organization or building. It can be an intangible political or social principle. There are numerous universal institutions that govern how a democracy, and how other governments, should operate. Withholding free information from your people is a blatant breach of those principles.

I am judging my opinion firstly based on reports that prove Ahmadinejad severely rigged the elections, reflecting the fact that a majority of Iranians do not want him in power. Also every now and then a satellite photo is leaked of massive protests in Tehran and other cities. There is also the fact that many, if not most of his citizens have "illegal" devices that allow them to listen to the information their government tries to block.

You did not address my point. Mass censorship of information clearly does not imply the motivation to protect against small terrorist factions. If the Iranian government were trying to do that they would employ measures similar to the US. Mass censorship is aimed at preventing the population from accessing information that could lead to dissenting thoughts towards the government, and then to activism. It was the same during the Cold War, and it is the same in China.

You are acting as though the government and the nation are the same entity, which they are not. The government is supposed to represent and act in the interests of its nation, which the Iranian government is not doing. I agree with you that Western governments, especially the US government, have acted terribly over the last few decades. But failing to address economic crises and bipartisan stagnation (the US situation) is not the same as grossly and bluntly suppressing the rights of your citizens as they do in Iran. I don't really know how to address your Occupy Wall Street argument it didn't really make sense to me.

Are you really attempting to argue that Iran is not oppressive? You call others naive and you argue in support of Iran? Look at the laws Ahmadinejad has passed. Look at the actions he has taken and the statements he has made, both about foreign relations and about people in his own country. You keep saying its just "Western media". Every type of media has a viewpoint, its not as though media from a non-Western source is somehow immaculate and bias-free. It's a stupid argument to make, especially since Western media, when you compare it to state sponsored media in many Middle Eastern countries, Eastern European countries, and Chinese media, it is relatively less biased and more diverse in it's viewpoints.

by: Bryan from: USA
October 26, 2011 21:18
Theres always so much talk about content filtering and people just dont realize all of that can be solved with a VPN. Not many people are aware that most of the content blocking is just geo locating the IP address and restricting based on that.
I have a different case, but when I am traveling overseas and can't get Hulu access because of the geo IP block, I just fire up <a href="http://hidemyass.com/vpn/r2290/">HMA Pro VPN</a> and it lets me access it.

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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Seen anything in the Iranian blogosphere that you think Persian Letters should cover? If so, contact Golnaz Esfandiari at esfandiarig@rferl.org