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Iranian authorities regularly engage in jamming activities to combat the widespread presence of illegal satellite dishes used to capture foreign broadcasts (file photo).

Iranian authorities regularly engage in jamming activities to combat the widespread presence of illegal satellite dishes used to capture foreign broadcasts (file photo).

Officials in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz have pledged to look into suggestions of a link between public health risks and the jamming of communications in the area.

Officials in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz have pledged to look into suggestions of a link between public health risks and the jamming of communications in the area, after residents took to the streets to complain of ailments that could stem from technology used to block foreign broadcasts.

Authorities have acknowledged in the past that jamming takes place in Iran, but no official has ever come forward to assume responsibility for the practice.

The officials in Shiraz offered their assurances at a January 9 gathering where dozens of citizens called for action against jamming, which they suspect of causing health problems such as headaches and even cancer.

"Jamming is betrayal of the people," some chanted.

Others argued that good health is their "inalienable right."

WATCH: Iranians Protest Transmitter Jamming In Shiraz

On January 9, Fars Province Deputy Governor Hadi Pazhuheshi Jahromi said that "because the health of Shiraz’s citizens is of high importance to us," Shiraz University and its medical-sciences staff have been asked to conduct research on the extent of jamming in the city and its possible impact on public health.

Some jamming technology disrupts wireless signals like satellite transmissions or WiFi through the use of electromagnetic currents, which are sometimes blamed by the public for a number of health problems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded based on scientific literature that "current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields."

'Links To Cancer, Infertility'

Recently published conclusions from Shiraz University appear to have contributed to the local concerns, linking electromagnetic currents to cancer, infertility, and immunological disorders.

"We are with you, and we promise that we will review the issue of jamming in a precise and scientific manner," Ayatollah Razmjoo, an adviser to Fars's governor and the head of the governorate's international PR office, said, adding, "The issue of jamming has nothing to do with the government."

The health concerns have gained momentum from Persian-language social media posts that claimed the jamming signals had become exponentially stronger, and cited disruptions in mobile communications and television signals in the area.

Ali Akbari, a lawmaker from Shiraz, told parliament in an open session earlier this month that the spread of headaches -- particularly in the west of the city -- has prompted concerns.

Akbari complained that no officials were ready to take responsibility for the problems.

"Neither the interior minister, the communications minister, nor the health minister is giving a clear answer in this regard, and the jamming signals are spreading headaches and disrupting the mobile network, television, and [creating] environmental problems," Akbari was quoted as saying by domestic media on January 3.

Last month, Deputy Governor Jahromi reportedly dismissed talk of potentially hazardous jamming as "rumors" and urged citizens to ignore it.

The United Nations' International Telecommunication Union has asserted the duty of states to confront the possible risks to the public of electromagnetic fields, including jamming.

As a purportedly heavy user of jamming to combat Western influence and news and other information, Iran has confronted public concerns in the past about its potential impact on health.

The Iran Meteorological Organization in 2014 took public its own complaint that jamming devices had crippled its forecasting ability ahead of a deadly dust storm that struck Tehran.

Lack Of Clarity

Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi said in 2014 that a committee was looking into whether jamming indeed posed a health threat. He also cited widespread "rumors" about jamming's effects and its consequences on people's health, adding that "most of the rumors have no scientific basis." It is unclear whether such a committee issued any findings or even concluded its research.

A lack of clarity from Iranian officials would complicate efforts to determine health risks, as experts would need to know the method and extent of such jamming to make a determination.

Ali Akbar Musavi, a U.S.-based rights activist and a former lawmaker who investigated jamming in Iran a decade ago, told RFE/RL in 2014 that at that time jamming centers were scattered in and around major cities and operated by "military bodies." Musavi said Iran jammed satellite signals and used "local jamming," deploying trucks in specific locations to interfere with reception at ground level.

Jamming activities are said to intensify at politically sensitive times, as do campaigns to combat the widespread presence of illegal satellite dishes used to capture foreign news and entertainment broadcasts.

Article 33 of a Citizens' Rights Charter launched recently by President Hassan Rohani states that "Citizens have the right to freely and without discrimination enjoy access to and communicate and obtain information and knowledge from cyberspace."

It adds that the "imposition of any type of restriction (such as filtering, interference, speed reduction and network interruption) without explicit legal authority is prohibited."

Iranian-born visual artist Shirin Neshat is one of the signatories of a new letter calling on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran.

Iranian-born visual artist Shirin Neshat is one of the signatories of a new letter calling on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran.

More than 35 prominent Iranian-Americans have called on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to preserve a nuclear deal with Iran and choose "diplomacy over sanctions and war." The letter comes days after 30 Iranian activists called on Trump to take a harder line on Tehran by imposing further sanctions and encouraging regime change there.

More than 35 prominent Iranian-Americans, including artists and academics, have called on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to preserve a nuclear deal with Iran by world powers and choose "diplomacy over sanctions and war" in dealing with the Islamic republic.

The January 5 letter warns that scrapping the nuclear accord would be a "disaster for both nations."

"It would also once again put the United States and Iran on the path of war," it warns of ditching the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) to curb Tehran's disputed nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

The letter comes days after 30 Iranian activists called on Trump to take a harder line on Tehran by imposing further sanctions and encouraging regime change there.

The nuclear deal has continued to have vocal opponents among hawkish ranks in the United States and Iran, as well as in Israel, since it was struck nearly 18 months ago.

Trump has called it "the worst deal ever negotiated" and said that dismantling it would be his "No. 1 priority."

Outgoing President Barack Obama has argued that it "blocks the four pathways to a nuclear weapon" for Tehran and "prolongs Iran's breakout time" -- the period it would take to produce enough weapons-grade uranium after deciding to build a bomb -- "from two to three months to one year or more if Iran broke its commitments."

In addition to the United States and Iran, China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom are all signatories to the agreement.

Iranian-Americans who signed the fresh appeal to Trump include author and historian Ervand Abrahamian, sociologist Asef Bayat, visual artist Shirin Neshat, and best-selling author Firouzeh Dumas.

They argue that sanctions and threats of war will only empower hard-liners who are opposed to any opening up of Iran, whose diplomatic and trade relations with the West have thawed slightly since the JCPOA came into effect in early 2016.

"Despite the fact that millions of Iranians disagree with many of the decisions made by their government, they welcomed the Iran nuclear deal," the letter says, adding that ending "the cycle of confrontation with the U.S." could create political space inside Iran for those pushing for democratic change.

"As we witnessed over the course of the last decade, sanctions and the threat of war only serve to empower Iran's hard-liners while harming ordinary citizens who represent the backbone of any possible positive change," the letter adds.

The United States has maintained sanctions on Iran over missile technologies and other weapons, international terrorism, and human rights abuses, and censorship.

Ahmad Batebi, an iconic figure of a 1999 student uprising against Iran's establishment, is one of the signatories of a letter urging the incoming Trump administration to take a tougher line against Tehran.

Ahmad Batebi, an iconic figure of a 1999 student uprising against Iran's establishment, is one of the signatories of a letter urging the incoming Trump administration to take a tougher line against Tehran.

The signatories of last month's letter urging the incoming U.S. administration to harden its line toward Tehran include former Iranian political prisoner Ahmad Batebi, an iconic figure of a 1999 student uprising against Iran's establishment, and Arash Sobhani, the lead singer of the popular rock band Kiosk.

They describe the nuclear deal as "disastrous" and liken Iran to the extremist group Islamic State (IS, also sometimes referred to as ISIS).

"The ISIS and the Islamic Republic of Iran are two sides of the coin that is Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. To end this reign of terror, the Islamic caliphate (ISIS) and the Islamic regime in Iran must be replaced with elected pro-peace and prosperity governments," that December 22 letter says.

"We ask the new administration to support the pro-democracy Iranians whose goal is to replace the Khomeinist regime of Tehran with a liberal-democratic government," it says, in a reference to the founder of Iran's Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini.

The letter further asks Trump to "expand the existing sanctions and impose new ones on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the supreme leader's financial empire" -- references to the military and security force that influences many aspects of Iranian life and the individual who has the last word in Iran's religious and political matters, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"We ask the incoming administration to develop a comprehensive regime of sanctions against those Iranian officials who have violated the human rights of the Iranian people over the last four decades," the letter says.

"We hope under your leadership the United States helps the Iranian people to take back their country from the Islamist gang which has been in charge for the last four decades," the letter says, adding that "the world without the Islamic republic and the Islamic State is a better place."

The hard-line Iranian daily Sobh-e No ran a front cover with photos of the signatories, calling them traitors who sold out their country.

The December letter led to criticism from Iranians inside the country who blasted it on social media and warned that sanctions most hurt ordinary citizens.

Some said the letter was effectively a call to war with Iran.

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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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