Iran’s Parliament Moves Ahead With Internet-Censorship Bill
Lawmakers of the Iranian parliament in closed session Wednesday approved a proposal to delegate a vote on a controversial bill restricting internet access to the parliament’s cultural committee rather than debate it on the parliament’s floor.
Iran has been blocking thousands of websites since the early 2000s and social media platforms such as Facebook and You Tube, both for religious and political reasons. The bill could practically cut users off from the world, cause economic damage and anger millions of people who are already frustrated by lack of water, electricity and Covid vaccines.
If approved and then endorsed by the constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, the legislation would − under a procedure outlined in Article 85 of the constitution − be implemented on a tentative basis, for a period specified by parliament before requiring parliament’s approval. Parliament has yet to decide how long that trial period would be.
One hundred and twenty one of 208 lawmakers present at Wednesday morning's session approved the move. Ali Yazdikhah, a member of the cultural committee, told Mehr News before the vote that many who had registered to speak against the bill were not against the bill as such but rather opposed its referral to the committee, where it is widely expected to be endorsed.
Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of IRGC and influencial conservative politician tweeted that as the country faces multiple challenges why it was necessary at this time to propose the internet bill.
Under the terms of the proposed legislation, all social networking and messaging corporations would need to appoint an Iranian representative and agree to comply with rules on vetting. Failure to comply could lead to their being blocked within four months of the legislation coming into force. In order to be licensed, companies operating social networks would be required to register their subscribers and provide this information to the authorities if requested.
The only social media platform not already blocked in Iran – and therefore not requiring access via a VPN (virtual private network) or anti-filtering software – is Instagram, which has become a common tool in business and marketing. The law proposes to replace Instagram with domestic applications such as Rubica.
Hardliners have long called for restrictions on access to unfiltered web content, including Instagram, which they say includes offensive material, especially targeting religious and cultural beliefs. But authorities readily block news sites and Persian websites abroad that carry a different message than what the Islamic Republic wants its citizens to hear.
Many officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, nonetheless use Instagram and other social networks such as Twitter for communicating political messages.
Many Iranians argue that the bill which is called ‘Legislation to Protect Cyberspace Users’ Rights’ will restrict internet freedom and refer to it on social media as ‘Legislation to Restrict Cyberspace Users' Rights.’ On Wednesday hashtags criticizing the legislation were at top of Persian Twitter trends.
The legislation was first proposed three years ago and has been criticized by Mohammad-Javad Azari-Jahromi, communications minister in the outgoing administration of president Hassan Rouhani, as well as by business leaders and representatives.
According to the latest survey carried out by the government-affiliated Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA) and published Tuesday, 53 percent of Iranians use Instagram. The ISPA survey, with a sample of 1585 of over-18s found WhatsApp the most used social network (used by 71 percent), despite being blocked, followed by Instagram, and Telegram (40 percent).