Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec. 19
By Umid Niayesh - Trend:
"Maybe in five years we will laugh at today's actions." These are words of Iranian culture minister, Ali Jannati commenting on bans against satellite TVs and some internet sites.
Jannati who is the son of powerful secretary of the conservative Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati made the remarks comparing it to a ban on VHS players in the 80s, calling it "ridiculous."
The moderate minister is also against the bans on social networks including Facebook and Twitter.
The number of Internet users in Iran through the end of March was 45.884 million, according to the Internet Penetration Management Portal which is part of Iran's Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. The figure indicates the Internet penetration rate of the country stood at 61.06 percent by the end March.
Several of world's most popular networks, such as Twitter and Facebook are banned in Iran, while users are still able to access them via proxies. For the uninitiated in the world of computer geeks, a proxy allows bypassing 'gates" meant to block certain sites.
The Iranian authorities banned Facebook and Twitter in summer 2009 when ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election victory sparked off massive protests that gained momentum with the help of organizers using social media.
On Nov. 20, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the U.S. administration had hoped to manage to overthrow Iran's regime with the help of social networks such as Tweeter and Facebook referring to the presidential election protests in 2009.
Later in September, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani criticized the ban on satellite receivers in Iran, saying that banning is an idea that belongs to the past. He added that, his administration wants the Iranian people to have free access to information.
On Nov. 15, Ali Jannati who is already an active Facebook user said that using the social network is not a criminal act, adding that the issue should be discussed in Iran's Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content.
Some other ministers of Rouhani are also active users of social networks.
While senior officials of the Rouhani`s administration insist that membership in social networks is not a criminal act and defend lifting the ban against them, Iranian conservatives are uneasy about their comments.
On Nov. 30 Tasnim news portal quoted a spokesman for the Iranian parliament's cultural commission, Seyyed Ali Taheri as saying Iran's administration is reportedly examining lifting the ban on the Facebook.
Taheri said the administration should consult with the parliament's cultural commission regarding the famous social media site issue. Facebook is banned in Iran, he said, adding that clerics are worried about the unfiltered website.
On Dec. 2, Iran's police chief Esmaeel Ahmadi Moghaddam criticized Iranian President Rouhani`s cabinet members who "cross red lines" by using banned social media networks.
In fact, many conservatives in Iran see the Internet and social networks as spying tools.
On December 10, Tasnim news portal published Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi`s fatwa (legal judgement) on the need to continue the blocking of social networks such as Facebook.
Membership in Facebook is offensive while it is a tool for "spreading corruption and sin," the fatwa reads.
"Spies and traitors can even transfer information via the website" according to the grand ayatollah's fatwa.
In past years some Iranian citizens had been charged with spying, using the internet and social networks.
On Dec. 4, the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) arrested 16 cyber-activists on charges of breaching security through cooperation with foreigners and anti-government websites.
Cooperation with Western news networks, designing and updating websites, educating citizen reporters and cooperation with opposition websites were among the charges being brought against the arrested activists.
The secretary of the Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content, Abdolsamad Khorramabadi called Facebook "an espionage website" which must remain blocked, on Dec. 8.
The following day, commander of the Iran's Morality Police, Massoud Zahedian said that Iran's Cyber Police actively monitor Iranians' activity on the Internet.
"The police are present on the Internet and are monitoring web sites such as Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, etc." he added.
While several members of Rouhani`s administration are using Facebook and Iranian moderate officials have repeatedly criticized the ban on Facebook and other social networks- why doesn't the administration lift the ban on social networks?
The keyword is "the Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content."
The issue could be discussed in the Committee which is headed by the conservative politician and prosecutor general of Iran, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje'I, and while six Rouhani`s ministers are also members of the committee, the president has yet to request the committee unblock Facebook.
?Maybe softening filtering policies is not a priority for pragmatic Rouhani compared to economic and foreign policy topics, but it is clear that he would face big challenges in his human right programs.
He made promises to the Iranian peoples on easing the political atmosphere and free information transfer during his presidency campaign, and his supporters await action.
Because Rouhani had to create balance among his reformist supporters and powerful conservative bodies in the Iranian administration, he tries to pursue the disputed issues such as Facebook ban quietly, which is a political tradition among pragmatic Iranian politicians.
But time is passing quickly and Rouhani should take practical steps, and maybe even in less than five years the administration "will laugh at today's bans."
Edited by C.N.