Saturday , 4 December 2021

Iranian Hardliners Dream of China’s Internet Model

Radiozamneh – The Speaker of the Iranian parliament warned experts not to express their views and opinions on the consequences of the so-called “Protect the Rights of Users in Cyberspace And Organize Social Media” bill.

Despite the widespread criticism and opposition to the bill from the public, on July 28, the Iranian parliament voted to review the plan under Article 85 of the Constitution.

According to Article 85 of the Iranian Constitution, in case of an emergency, the parliament can delegate the review and approval of some plans to a parliamentary committee. Therefore, in the next step parliament will form a special committee that is supposed to review this 32-article bill. This bill will never get back to the parliament for voting. Instead, it is being sent to the Guardian Council and, if approved, the pilot implementation will start. The Iranian parliament uses a loophole to turn this bill into law without being approved by the parliament.

MPs at the Iranian parliament gesturing two with their hands to convince others to vote for controversial Internet bill- photo by ISNA - Alireza Masoumi
MPs at the Iranian parliament gesturing two with their hands to convince others to vote for controversial Internet bill- photo by ISNA – Alireza Masoumi

Who supports this plan?

A group of ultra-conservatives and hardliners champion this bill.

Ahmad Khatami, a hardline cleric and a member of the Guardian Council, called on future president Ebrahim Ra’isi to fight the “polluted cyberspace.” He said: “The United States and foreigners want to influence our youth through cyberspace easily; When our young people turn away from God through cyberspace and introduce them to lust, it is clear that those young people will no longer believe in the culture of martyrdom.” Ahmad Khatami said the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has also called for managing cyberspace. 

In a televised speech delivered on March 21, on the occasion of Nowruz, Khamenei said that the enemy is making the most of cyberspace: “The necessary regulations are unfortunately not being observed in cyberspace despite all my emphasis. In certain aspects, cyberspace is completely free of any supervision. Those who are in charge should be careful. All countries in the world control their cyberspaces, but we are proud of letting it roam freely. Cyberspace should be managed.”

What is the bill about?

The bill is titled “To Protect the Rights Of Users In Cyberspace and Organize Social Media”. It includes several rules related to all sectors of cyberspace and the national information network. This plan extends its scope beyond social media messengers to almost all online services.

According to this plan, the officials and managers of the executive apparatus are prohibited from participating and operating in social networks and unlicensed messengers. In case of violation, penalties such as dismissal from public offices for one to five years are suggested.

According to the plan, “the supply and operation of effective fundamental foreign services require the introduction of a legal representative and the acceptance of the commission’s obligations.”

It means international platforms must obtain official authorization from the government and pledge to comply with the laws of the Islamic Republic to operate in Iran. Otherwise, these media platforms will be filtered.

The bill could result in a ban of some of the social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Imports of electronic and smart devices that have unlicensed foreign services installed in them by default or that cannot install licensed domestic services are prohibited and subject to the laws related to smuggling of licensed goods under Article 13 of the Law on Combating Commodity and Currency Smuggling.

Many imported mobile phones, tablets, and laptops already have the operating system of foreign companies such as Google or Microsoft installed by default. According to the plan, the commission can increase the tariff of smart devices that have unlicensed external utility services installed by default by up to 35%.

Who opposes this plan?

A majority of Iranian oppose this plan, including several conservatives. 

Recently, a petition was launched against the plan, which has so far been signed by almost one million people. In a statement, the National Association of Journalists inside Iran called the plan a violation of the legal rights of journalists, the media and the Iranian citizens. Dozens of startups and digital businesses have also issued a statement opposing the bill. “This plan is definitely not in the interest of Iranian internet businesses. The authors and backers of this bill should know that the damage caused by this plan to local businesses is far greater than the intended help”, according to the statement by 48 startups in Iran.      

Human rights organizations and activists are concerned about the plan, which will lead to limitations and censorship of the internet. 

“This bill is simply another weapon that the Iranian authorities will wield against the people of Iran, blocking internet access during protests and other events when safe access to information and communication is vital,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

The bill “To Protect the Rights Of Users In Cyberspace  and Organize Social Media” was introduced in the previous parliament in 2018.