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A woman surfs the Internet at a cybercafe in central Tehran.
Iran's cyberpolice have issued new guidelines for Internet cafes that appear to be part of the Iranian establishment's efforts to tighten its control of the Internet.

According to the new rules, the personal information of citizens visiting cybercafes, such as their name, father's name, national ID number, and telephone number, will be registered. Cafe owners will be required to keep the personal and contact information of their clients and also a record of the websites and pages visited for six months.

Another new rule that has been announced requires cybercafe owners to install closed-circuit TV cameras and keep the video recordings for six months. The guidelines also say that installing circumvention tools that allow access to banned websites will be illegal at Internet cafes.

Deputy cyberpolice chief Mohsen Mirbehresi has said that owners of Internet cafes should deny Internet access to those who do not show their IDs. Internet cafes have 15 days to implement the restrictions, which were announced on January 3.

The cyberpolice force, which was launched last year, has said that the reason for the measures is that "citizens are concerned about theft of information" and security. Indeed, some of the new rules, including one that requires Internet cafes to delete user's personal browsing data from the computers used at the end of each working day, could lead to improved security.

But the guidelines, which have been put in place ahead of the March parliamentary elections, will also create a logbook that authorities can use to track down activists or whomever is deemed a threat to national security.

Iran has a record of threatening and arresting online activists and bloggers. Following the 2009 postelection protests, during which opposition activists used the Internet and social media to document the police crackdown, Iran's authorities appear to have increased their scrutiny of online activities.

Iranian leaders have warned that the soft war, which they say "enemies" (the United States) have launched to destabilize the Islamic republic and lead to its demise, is one of the greatest threats facing the country. A main tool they claim is being used in the conflict is the Internet, which -- despite Iran's tough censorship -- gives Iranians access to banned ideas and information and allows them to gather online and discuss taboo subjects.

An Iranian Internet?

The new restrictions for Internet cafes are being announced amid increased concern over Iran's stated plan to launch a national Internet.

An Iranian daily reported earlier this week that preparations for the launch of the national Internet are behind the significant decline in Internet speed that users have been complaining about recently. "Roozegar" claimed that the national Internet, which is being referred to as the "clean Internet," will be launched within two weeks. Some Internet users speculate that the launch of the national Internet will coincide with the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution.

But officials have so far not announced a roll-out date for the intranet, which they say will improve speed an security and be "halal," or pure.

Communications Minister Reza Taghipour was quoted as saying on January 4 that the reason for the decline in Internet speed was "temporary problems," including what he described as an undersea cable cut in the Persian Gulf.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari
Iranian activist Heshmatollah Tabarzadi in YouTube video apparently recorded covertly in Rajayishahr prison and posted on January 1.
A well-known Iranian political activist, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, has managed to send out an unprecedented video message from the Rajayishahr prison in which he dismisses Iran's repressive measures aimed at silencing dissent and predicts they will fail.

"Freedom is the essence of human being I believe, in fact without freedom no choice has a meaning," he says in the 15-minute-plus video.

The video was recorded recently on a mobile phone and posted on YouTube. It was then quickly shared on Facebook, blogs, and other social media sites.

Tabarzadi the head of the banned Democratic Front of Iran who has been in and out of prison for the past several years, is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence after being convicted of security charges that are often being brought against Iranian political activists.

In the video, Tabarzadi says the Iranian leadership fears individuals like him who have resorted to nonviolent means to bring change in the country.

He says the harsh methods Iran uses against political activists, students, and human rights advocates are doomed to failure:

"We are not terrorists; we are not promoting violence; we have said certain things based on our basic rights; we've expressed our views. The establishment issues heavy prison sentences against us out of fear, it fears what we have to say -- the things we're saying here between us. I don't believe the crackdown, violent measures, prison and other things will stop us. We're determined, we have paid a price, and we're [ready] to pay an even higher price, we know our rights, and we will definitely reach our demands. "

Tabarzadi adds that Iranians deserve a democratically elected secular government that will respect the rights of all citizens.

Tabarzadi's video message is an example of social media providing Iranian activists a platform on which they can express themselves more freely than through other, frequently heavily censored media.

It comes just a few days after another video was posted on YouTube that shows a number of prominent Iranian political prisoners in the courtyard of Gohardasht prison.

It is still unclear what repercussions the outspoken Tabarzadi might face over his video message, which is likely to draw the ire of Iranian authorities.

Activists have been increasingly using social media, particularly Facebook, to spread news and bring attention to the plight of Iranian political prisoners since the crackdown began after the 2009 presidential vote.

An increasing number of prisoners of conscience have in recent months issued open letters from prison in which they have described mistreatment and torture by the hands of their interrogators. The letters have been distributed widely through social media.

A number of them have dared to challenge Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate political and religious power in the country.

We reported recently about the efforts of former political prisoner Mohammad Nourizad, who used to be a columnist for the ultra-hard-line "Kayhan" daily, which is said to reflect Khamenei's views.

Nourizad has challenged Khamenei in 15 open letters, including several from Evin prison. He has called on others to do the same.

Another prisoner of conscience, Abolfazl Ghadiani, who was arrested in 2009, last week in an open letter issued from prison called on the Iranian leader to step down and give up power.

"People like myself have not given our life, livelihood, and freedom in the path of the revolution for Ali Khamenei to reign over the country," Ghadiani, a member of the reformist Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution party, wrote in the letter. He blamed Khamenei for Iran's dire economic situation, sanctions, and the specter of war that has spread its shadow on Iran.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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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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