Judicial authorities in Iran admit to blocking access to more than 5 million websites deemed immoral or antisocial.
Iranian media this week quoted Abdol Samad Khorram Abadi, an adviser to Iran’s prosecutor-general, as saying the country’s enemies "seek to assault our religious identity by exploiting the Internet."
In reality, Iranian Internet users say, officials are mostly targeting independent news sources, as well as political, social, and music websites.
Iran is home to one of the largest populations of web users in the Middle East, with some 15 percent of the population having access to the Internet.
And, as the Internet becomes increasingly important in the lives of many Iranians – especially the younger generation – Iranian authorities have been restricting access to the free flow of information.
Tehran’s clampdown began just after the millennium, as the country began experiencing a surge in Internet usage.
Laws For Internet Usage
Since then, Iranian authorities have introduced at least three sets of rules and regulations restricting the use of the Internet for readers, bloggers, and online activists, as well as for Internet cafe owners and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
According to Iranian law, every ISP must be approved by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. They are also required to install special filters to control the content of websites and e-mails passing through their network.
ISPs that fail to comply with these rules face heavy penalties or closure. At least 10 ISPs in Iran have reportedly been closed for failing to install content-control software.
In addition, every website in Iran is required to register with the Culture Ministry.
Hessam, an Internet cafe owner in Tehran, tells RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the registration procedure is extremely complicated and is designed to discourage people from creating new websites.
“For instance, young underground musicians want to create a website to find an audience through the Internet, because their music is banned and the Internet is the only option for them,” says Hessam. “Or an independent journalist wants to set up a website to publish his articles. But they all have to get permission from the authorities first.”
The Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders has labeled Iran as one the world’s “worst enemies of the Internet.”
Despite all the restrictions, however, Iranian web users still manage to access blocked or filtered websites using proxy servers.
According to Bobak, an Iranian Internet user, the authorities’ filters and other obstacles to block people’s access to the Internet simply don’t work.
(Radio Farda correspondent Roozbeh Bolhari contributed to this report)