Iran's free Internet still under question

Iran's free Internet still under question

Baku, Azerbaijan, May 22

By Umid Niayesh - Trend:

Iran's so-called "moderate" president's recent statements over the freedom of access to the Internet have triggered a new duel among the senior officials of the Islamic Republic.

Speaking at a communications and information technology festival in Tehran on May 17, President Hassan Rouhani said "the days of despotism and one-way message delivery through loudspeakers and tribunes are over."

The president also dismissed concerns about young people venturing into cyber space, saying the Internet should be seen as an opportunity to present "the Iranian and Islamic identity."

He also welcomed Iranian's use of social networking sites, urging the ministry of communications to increase Internet speed and bandwidth for better public access.

These statements again triggered attacks from Iranian conservatives and their media against the president.

Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, the head of Iran's judiciary indirectly accused Rouhani of not being aware of the threats in cyberspace.

"Those who do not agree with the poison of the Internet, do not know cyberspace," Iran's Fars news agency quoted Larijani as saying on May 21.

Larijani went on to repeat the statements about the Internet as a "spying tool which is threatening the national security of Iran."

He also claimed that the Islamic Republic trusts its citizens, in particular the youth, however trusting the youth is different from "closing homes to the poison of the virtual and cyber world."

"We should follow the law in preventing the enemy from using the innocence of the families," the judiciary chief added.

Popular social networks including Facebook and Twitter still remain banned in Iran despite the administration's support for freedom of access.

However Rouhani has taken some steps on the issue in recent months. He recently vetoed a decision was made by the Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content, headed by the prosecutor general of Iran to block WhatsApp, a popular mobile application.

The conservative politician and prosecutor general of Iran, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei in his turn called the administration's veto illegal.

Explaining the ban decision Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, the secretary of the Committee said the acquisition of WhatsApp by Mark Zuckerberg, "the American Zionist manager of the blocked Facebook site," was one reason for the ban.

On the other hand, Iran's telecommunications minister Mahmoud Vaezi underlined that until the time that the administration have domestic replacement for these applications, the government opposes to filter them.

Filtering doesn't mean Iranians are totally cut off from the world's most popular social networks. Visitors from Iran are able to log on both Twitter and Facebook via proxies - special IP addresses, which serve as a hub through which internet requests are processed.

About four million Iranians are using Facebook, according to the culture minister, Ali Jannati who is himself a user of the website.

Whether the Iran's administration recognize the citizens' rights to free Internet access or no, one point is clear: the Iranian citizens as well as the Rouhani's administration do not recognize the bans on the Internet. And thanks to the proxy filters they are able to access the social networks.

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