Five million internet websites are currently being blocked by the Iranian government, a website called 'Rooz' reported, quoting the Iran's prosecutor general as its source.
The report is the first ever in which a legislative source from Iran has divulged information about the regime's censorship policies.
During a conference in the country Prosecutor General Abdolsamad Khoram Abadi explained that most of the sites were blocked because they contained unethical content, a reference to pornography and other anti-Islamic entertainment.
Ismail Radkani, a spokesman for the company responsible for the blocking of websites in Iran, also spoke during the conference. He said over a thousand such sites were being automatically withdrawn from the public eye every month,
according to legislature passed down from the government.
Abadi estimated the internet as a more imminent danger than satellite dishes, because of the fact that the internet is more accessible. Thus, he called for the establishment of an internet police in his country.
Iranian authorities recently jailed two cyber writers. Paris based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reports online journalist Shahnaz Gholami's arrest at her Tehran home on 9 November. She was the editor of Azarzan blog. RSF reports also that
theologian and online journalist Mojtaba Lotfi was arrested on 8 October for posting a sermon by a well-known opponent of Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei online.
At the end of October Mojtaba Saminejad, a former jailed blogger, writes that security forces threatened his wife and him because of his blog and political ideas. The blogger adds that his wife has been under pressure by security agents to
complain against him. he has not updated his blog since 29th of October.
The annual publication, Iran - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband , provides a comprehensive overview of the trends and developments in the telecommunications and digital media markets in Iran.
It reports that Internet censorship is strict. By November 2008 the number of banned sites was put at over 5 million.
Iran is very stony ground for any form of digital media to grow or flourish due to the government's strict control and censorship of Internet media and its banning of satellite TV dishes to receive the wealth of free to air DTH satellite TV
channels available in the region.
The Iranian judicial authorities have published a long list of banned Internet websites in a new crackdown on online networks, including those deemed immoral.
They said the list, drawn up by a committee of experts, bans any site that contains pornography, prostitution, sexual deviation or anything considered to be contrary to the morals of society in the Islamic republic.
Websites containing material contrary to security and social peace as well as those seen by the authorities as hostile to government officials and institutions bound to lead to crimes are also banned.
According to the list published in several Tehran newspapers, anyone found guilty of using such websites could be jailed for several years in line with a law on Internet offences passed in parliament more than a year ago.
Internet users are also prohibited from posting articles that violate religious values, that insult Islam and other recognised world religions, saints and prophets, the reports said.
Any articles that insult Imam Khomeini and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are banned, the reports added in reference to the founder of the Islamic republic and his successor. Articles contrary to the constitution, that support
hostile political groups or are used as propaganda against the regime of the Islamic republic are also banned.
The sale of software that can bypass bypass filter systems used by the authorities is also forbidden, the reports said.
Iran's telecommunications agency announced what it described as a permanent suspension of Google's email services, saying a national email service for Iranian citizens would soon be rolled out.
A Google spokesman said in a statement, We have heard from users in Iran that they are having trouble accessing Gmail. We can confirm a sharp drop in traffic, and we have looked at our own networks and found that they are working properly.
Whenever we encounter blocks in our services we try to resolve them as quickly as possibly because we strongly believe that people everywhere should have the ability to communicate freely online.
The move marks another effort by the regime to close the gap with its opposition in controlling Iranian cyberspace, according to Internet security experts. The government has a tight grip over old media—television, radio and newspapers—but
learned during the unrest following the contested election last June that the opposition and its supporters dominated new media, including social networking Web sites like Twitter and Facebook.
The primary purpose for doing this is to control communication and mine that communication, so the government can crack down on dissenters and people who threaten the government, said Richard Stiennon, founder of Internet security firm
IT-Harvest: If the government can induce the population to use a state-controlled email service, it would have access to the content of all of those emails, he added.
The US has accused Iran of seeking a near-total information blockade to silence anti-government protesters.
The allegations came after opposition supporters clashed with security forces as Iran marked the anniversary of the 1979 revolution. The US government said it had information that the telephone network was taken down, SMS messages blocked, and
internet communication throttled .
Official events were held across Iran, but the main gathering was at Tehran's Azadi Square. State TV showed tens of thousands of people filling the streets. Amateur footage purportedly showing opposition protests has been appearing on the
video-sharing website YouTube, including at least one rally in the Tehran underground.
Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak have begun violently attacking journalists reporting on the streets of Cairo today, a shift in tactics from recent media censorship, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. CPJ calls on the Egyptian
military to provide protection for journalists.
The Egyptian government is employing a strategy of eliminating witnesses to their actions, said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. The government has resorted to blanket censorship,
intimidation, and today a series of deliberate attacks on journalists carried out by pro-government mobs. The situation is frightening not only because our colleagues are suffering abuse but because when the press is kept from reporting, we lose
an independent source of crucial information.
Dozens of foreign journalists were arrested, attacked and beaten as the Egyptian government and its supporters embarked on what the US state department called a concerted campaign to intimidate the international media.
Human rights workers also fell victim to crowd violence, while police raided the offices of two groups in Cairo, the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre and the Centre for Economic and Social Rights, and arrested observers. Amnesty International said one
of its staff was detained at the law centre, with a Human Rights Watch colleague.
A group of reporters from Daily News Egypt, an independent, English-language paper, were among those targeted. They were set upon by a group of passers-by in Dokki, west of the Nile, that quickly swelled into a 50-strong crowd after they ventured
out of their offices to investigate a story about rising petrol prices.
It was terrifying, said Amira Ahmed, the publication's business editor. They were chanting: 'We've found the foreigners, don't let them go,' and calling us traitors and spies. Like many who were caught up in similar incidents
today, Ahmed said the most chilling part of the encounter was the mob mentality that took hold: t he people who were showing up had no idea why we were the targets. They just took up the cry of 'foreigners' and 'journalists' and joined in.
There was no leader we could appeal to for reason.
The Egyptian interior ministry arrested more than 20 foreign journalists in Cairo, including the Washington Post's bureau chief and a photographer. Al-Jazeera said three of its journalists were detained.
On the streets, it was impossible to interview protesters without a crowd gathering, shouting accusations and jabbing fingers. The antipathy to the media appeared to extend to both opponents and supporters of the regime.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs described the systematic targeting of journalists in Egypt as unacceptable, and called for those detained to be freed. The leaders of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain said in a joint statement
that the attacks against journalists are completely unacceptable .
Iran is moving towards introducing a new aggressive form of censorship, a national Internet that could, in effect, disconnect Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world.
The initiative appears part of a broader effort to confront what the regime now considers a major threat: an online invasion of Western ideas, culture and influence.
Iran, already among the most sophisticated nations in online censoring, also promotes its national Internet as a cost-saving measure for consumers and as a way to uphold Islamic moral codes.
The Wall St Journal quoted Reza Bagheri Asl, director of the telecommunication ministry's research institute, as telling an Iranian news agency that soon 60% of the nation's homes and businesses would be on the new, internal network. Within two
years it would extend to the entire country, he said.
Ali Aghamohammadi, Iran's head of economic affairs, said the new network would at first operate in parallel to the normal Internet-banks, government ministries and large companies would continue to have access to the regular Internet. Eventually,
he said, the national network could replace the global Internet in Iran, as well as in other Muslim countries.
Iran has stepped up online censorship by upgrading the system that enables the Islamic regime to block access to millions of websites it deems inappropriate for Iranian users.
The move comes one month after the United States announced plans to launch new services facilitating internet access and mobile phone communications in countries with tight controls on freedom of speech, a decision that infuriated Tehran's regime
and prompted harsh reactions from several Iranian officials.
Despite the blocking, many Iranians access banned addresses with help from proxy websites or virtual private network (VPN) services. The upgrade is aimed at stopping users bypassing censorship.
More than 5 million websites are filtered in Iran. Media organisations including the Guardian, BBC and CNN are blocked. On Google, the Farsi equivalents for words such as condom , sex , lesbian and anti-filtering are
Iran is believed to be worried about the influence of the internet and especially social networking websites as pro-democracy activists across the Middle East use them to promote and publicise their movements.
In April, the Tehran government announced that it intended to launch halal internet , a country-wide intranet and a parallel network that conforms to Islamic values with the ultimate goal of substituting for the global internet.
Iran's opposition believe that Iran is buying its filtering technology from China.
The use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and proxies is a crime, Iran's Minister of Communications and Technology has announced.
ISNA quoted the minister saying: Now VPNs have been cut off in the country because their use is a legal violation.
A VPN is an encrypted communication through which internet users can get access to websites blocked by Iran without Iranian authorities being able to monitor communication content such as web browsing or email.
Iranian internet users have been using VPNs and proxies to circumvent extensive internet blocking.
Iranian authorities claim that their enemies are trying to destabilize the country through cultural and social influences, which they refer to as the soft war.
Iran has blocked the website of the British embassy in Tehran following a diplomatic crisis last month that led to the closure of the UK mission.
The Foreign Office said that the government's website in Iran, which had continued working despite the closure of the embassy, had been deliberately filtered by the Iranian authorities.
People inside Iran who try to visit ukiniran.fco.gov.uk, are re-directed to a web page that reads: Access to the webiste is denied according to [Iran's] computer crimes regulations.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, said: Britain's website in Iran has now been added to the list of thousands of other internet sites deliberately censored by the Iranian authorities. Hague said Iran's move was counter-productive
and ill-judged :
It will also make it harder for Iranian nationals to access information about visiting the UK. And it is further proof to the rest of the world the Iranian government's dire record on freedom of speech and human rights in general. This action
will not deter Britain from continuing to engage with the Iranian people, including through the internet.
A member of Iran's Corporate Computer Systems reports that Iran will be cut off from the World Wide Web once the country launches its own national internet network next month.
Iranian media report that Payam Karbasi, the spokesman for Corporate Computer Systems of Iran, said: With the launch of the national internet, the internet providers can increase the speed of access to their desired websites by two
megabytes... however, it will be just like a corporate network, which cannot be accessed by outsiders, and some material cannot be accessed through that network.
The national internet network will allow service providers to decide which sites the users can be accessed speedily, which sites will be provided at the lowest speed, and of course which sites will be totally blocked.
In the past two weeks, Iranian internet users have reported an extreme reduction in internet speed. While access to government sites remains easy, using proxies to access blocked sites only via the slow lane.
Karbasi said: Imagine there is a monitoring system that checks all the internet packages and then allows it to pass through or regards it unclean. Because of the high volume of internet packages, they remain in a line-up in order to be
checked, and this causes the reduction in the speed of access.
With the launch of the so-called clean internet network, Iranian authorities aim to separate Iran from the World Wide Web in order to block access to supposedly immoral content and maintain control of what Iranian users can access.
Iran's cyberpolice have issued new restrictions for Internet cafes that appear to be part of the Iranian establishment's efforts to impose further controls on 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 their browsing history for six months.
Another new rule that has been announced requires cybercafe owners to install closed-circuit 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.
Iran's supreme leader has ordered the creation of an internet censorship agency that includes top military, security and political figures in the country's boldest attempt yet to control the internet.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed that the grandiously named, Supreme Council of Cyberspace, will be tasked with preventing harm to Iranians who go online, state TV reported.
The report did not spell out specifically the kind of harms that the council would tackle. But officials have in the past described two separate threats: computer viruses created by Iran's rivals aimed at sabotaging its industry, particularly its
controversial nuclear program, and a culture invasion aimed at undermining the Islamic Republic.
The Supreme Council of Cyberspace Censorship will be headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and includes powerful figures in the security establishment such as the intelligence chief, the commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, and the
country's top police chief. It also includes the speaker of parliament, state media chiefs, government ministers in charge of technology-oriented portfolios, and several cyber experts.
Tehran has blocked another UK Foreign Office website in Iran as part of its ever-tightening stranglehold of censorship , the foreign secretary has said.
William Hague said UK for Iranians was launched on March 14 to reach out to its citizens but access from the country was blocked on March 17. Iran had already blocked the main British embassy website in December 2011.
Britain last year closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled Iran's diplomats. It followed an attack on the embassy building, which Iran described unacceptable behaviour by a small number of protesters . However, British diplomats said they
believed it was likely the attack had state backing.
In a statement Hague said the UK for Iranians website had been established to explain UK policy and engage with Iranians and that the blocking of the site was only a very small part of what Iranians endure daily . He said Iran's government
had jammed international television channels, closed film and theatre productions, rewritten traditional Persian literature and banned the publication of some books and newspapers.
Iranian authorities have announced that they are permanently blocking access to Google Mail and would instead create a national email service.
Google confirmed that there had been significant decline in Google Mail traffic to Iran and said this was not due to a technical problem on its part. It also said it was aware that Google Mail users in Iran were having difficulties in accessing
Reporters Without Borders said:
The Iranian government has never hidden the fact that it regards new media, especially the Internet, with the utmost suspicion because of the very visible presence of its opponents on social networks. Its response is to slow or sever connections
in an attempt prevent its critics from organising and prevent damaging reports and images from circulating within the country or being sent abroad.
Blocking Google Mail takes the drive to control Iranian cyber-space to a new stage and officialises the war already launched against website-based email services, which are harder to monitor and which have won over the public by their use of
Farsi. But this strategy is doomed to failure. Most Iranian Internet users know how to sidestep censorship and access blocked websites and pages.
As for the creational of a national email service, if it really goes ahead, we doubt that it will be a success because no one is fooled. Its aim would be to increase online surveillance.
Update: A timely further reason for blocking Google Mail
Although an Iranian block on Google Mail was already in progress, it has now been repackaged as an action against the Innocence of Muslims video that has resulted in violent muslim protest around the world.
Google and Gmail will be filtered throughout the country until further notice, said Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, an Iranian official with the state-run body in charge of online censorship and computer crimes, according to the semi-official Ilna
Khoramabadi claimed the decision was taken after Iranians pressed the authorities to filter the sites because of links to the film.
The Young Journalists Club, an Iranian semi-official news agency that broke the news, said the move was in reaction to YouTube's refusal to take down the anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims.
At midnight in Tehran, Google was still accessible, according to citizens who spoke to the Guardian, but some said they could not access their Gmail accounts as some internet service providers appeared to have blocked the service.
AN Iranian official Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard has told Reuters:
Within the last few days illegal VPN ports in the country have been blocked. Only legal and registered VPNs can from now on be used.
So, those looking to tap into Facebook, YouTube, various news sites and, yes, even Google's search engine itself (among other banned websites) will have to find different methods for doing so -- which do exist, according to an Iranian interviewed
by Reuters who said he was using an unnamed software tool to bypass Iran's blocks.
Iran's Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi explained further in the Tehran Chronicle:
We have started distributing official VPN services for Iranian users. Those need this service to open safe connections can apply in the program and we will review their cases one by one. If their request was approved, then we will introduce
legal providers and licensed clients can buy their needed services.
By launching this program, Iranian government can prosecute users who are violating state laws and Internet Filtering Committee will be able to take offenders to national courts.
Iran's president-elect Hassan Rouhani has expressed relatively progressive views about civil liberties, freedom of expression and the internet .
In an interview in the Iranian media, Rouhani told youth magazine Chelcheragh that he is opposed to segregation of sexes in society, would work to minimise censorship and believes internet filtering is futile.
In the age of digital revolution, one cannot live or govern in a quarantine, he said as he made clear he is opposed to the authorities' harsh crackdown on Iranians owning satellite dishes.
Of internet filtering, Rouhani said some of the measures taken by the authorities to restrict users' access online was not done in good faith and was instead politically motivated:
There are political reasons. They have fears of the freedom people have in online atmosphere, this is why they seek to restrict information. But filtering is incapable of producing any [useful] results.
Supporters of internet filtering should explain whether they've successfully restricted access to information? Which important piece of news has filtering been able to black out in recent years?
Filtering has not even stopped people from accessing unethical [a reference to pornographic] websites. Widespread online filtering will only increase distrust between people and the state.
Rouhani also pledged to minimise censorship of artistic and cultural works. In his interview, Rouhani said he opposed segregation of men and women, including at universities, and criticised the politicians who are against allowing women to enter
stadiums to watch football matches along with men. He also explained that he opposed the religious police acting as fashion police by enforcing islamic dress codes. He also said that a women without a hijab is not necessarily without virtue.
Iranian censors have reportedly banned the use of messaging service WhatsApp, citing the Jewish heritage of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, which now owns WhatsApp.
According to initial accounts from Fox News, Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, secretary of the Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content, said the reason for the change is the adoption of WhatsApp by the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is
an American Zionist.
The Twitter account of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani retweeted a message from @MeetIran, which said it opposed the WhatsApp blockade.
Despite its massive popularity around the world, WhatsApp has become something of a black sheep in the Middle East. In February, the app was named the No. 1 cause of destruction in Jewish homes and businesses, according to Israeli rabbis,
who discouraged its use among the ultra-Orthodox.
Iran is to make the sale, purchase and use of VPN software illegal throughout Iran.
Virtual Private Networks hides the real internet address of users from internet snoopers and from websites being visited.
The draconian clampdown of free use of the Internet was announced by Iran's cyber police chief Brigadier General Kamal Hadianfar on Monday. He warned Internet users that use of a VPN makes all their information available to the companies that own
the VPN servers, and claimed: Criminals' use of VPN has made the cost of finding the criminals higher and has increased the risk for those using it.
A 2013 study found that almost half of the world's top 500 most-visited websites - including those related to health, science, sports, news, and even shopping - are blocked in Iran. The regime is also one of three countries in the world to block
Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. So it is hardly surprising that many Iranians use VPN software to bypass the regime's censorship of millions of websites and internet services.
Iran has been facing off with the Telegram encrypted comms app over a dispute about granting the repressive state rights to snoop on users' communications.
Iran has demanded snooping rights but has been generating a public outcry when applying temporary blocks to the app.
Pavel Durov, founder and chief executive officer for the app Telegram, took to Twitter to defend the app after Iran decided to block it because he wouldn't allow the government to spy on its users. Durov tweeted:
Iranian officials want to use @telegram to spy on their citizens. We can not and will not help them with that.
Iranian ministry of ICT demanded that @telegram provided them with spying and censorship tools. We ignored the demand, they blocked us.
According to Durov, ICT completely blocked the app in Iran for two hours Tuesday and partially blocked it for more than a week.
Iran has announced it has completed the first phase of its long running plan to operate a "national internet".
An inauguration ceremony was held on Sunday by the country's communications and censorship minister, Mahmoud Vaezi.
Iran already blocks access to overseas-based social media services - including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook - many users still access them via proxy sites and virtual private networks (VPNs). So the government is trying to totally cut off
access paths to the outside world.
The government says the goal is to create an isolated domestic intranet that can be used to promote Islamic content and raise digital awareness among the public. It intends to replace the current system, in which officials seek to limit
which parts of the existing internet people have access to via filters - an effort Vaezi described as being "inefficient".
According to a report by Mehr, a Tehran-based news agency :
the first phase of the rollout involves providing access to e-government services and domestic web pages
a second phase, due in February 2017, will add domestic video content
a third phase, due in March 2017, will introduce further services and provide support for companies involved in international trade
The British human rights campaign group Article 19 has criticised the plan:
Given Iran's record in violating its human rights commitments based on civil and political (including religious and ethnic) grounds, the development of projects such as the national internet are especially concerning.
The National Internet Project could pave the way for further isolation, surveillance and information retention. [It] risks severely isolating the Iranian people from the rest of the online world, limiting access to information and constraining
attempts at collective action and public protest."
Monday's ban on the popular encrypted Telegram messaging app by Iran's powerful judiciary has not been well received.
Telegram serves many Iranians as a kind of combination of Facebook and Whatsapp, allowing people inside the country to chat securely and to disseminate information to large audiences abroad. Until the court ban, the application was widely used by
Iranian state media, politicians, companies and ordinary Iranians for business, pleasure and political organizing. Telegram is believed to have some 20 million users in Iran out of a total population of 80 million.
The judiciary's Culture and Media Court banned the app citing among its reasons its use by international terrorist groups and anti-government protesters, and the company's refusal to cooperate with Iran's Ministry of Information and
Communications Technology to provide decryption keys.
The move came after extensive public debate in Iran, some conducted via the messaging service itself, about the limits of free expression, government authority and access to information in the Islamic Republic.
President Hassan Rouhani and other prominent reformers, who advocate increased freedom while retaining Iran's current Islamic system of government, argued against the proposed ban, saying that it would make society anxious.
Similarly, in the wake of the judiciary's announcement that the application would be blocked, Information and Communications Technology Minister Muhammad-Javad Azari Jahromi criticized the move on Twitter. Citizens' access to information sources
is unstoppable, he wrote the day after the decision. Whenever one application or program is blocked, another will take its place, he wrote. This is the unique aspect and necessity of the free access to information in the age of communication.
Rouhani was even more forthright in his response to the ban in a message posted to Instagram on Friday. The government policy is... a safe, but not controlled Internet, he wrote. No Internet service or messaging app has been banned by this
government, and none will be. He added that the block was the direct opposite to democracy.
Update: The judicial censorship of Telegram could be challenged by the president
Two lawyers in Tehran told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that the Iranian president has the authority to refuse to the prosecutor's order to ban the Telegram messaging app.
An attorney in Tehran specializing in media affairs, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the threat of reprisals by the judiciary, told CHRI: From a legal standpoint, orders issued by assistant prosecutors must be enforced but they can
be challenged. As the target of this order, the government can lodge a complaint and ask the provincial court to make a ruling. But the question is, does the government want to take legal action or not? This is more of a political issue. In the
same manner, the judiciary had invoked security laws to shut down 40 newspapers in 2000.