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memri
February 4, 2010 No.
2794

In Run-Up to Islamic Revolution Day 2010, Iranian Regime Steps Up Oversight, Censorship on Media, Citizens

Immediately following the mass anti-regime demonstrations in Iran on 'Ashura Day, December 27, 2009, and in advance of the festivities marking the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, set for February 11, 2010, the Iranian authorities have toughened their policy of oversight of the country's citizens and censorship of the media.

As part of this newly harsh policy, a cyber police force was formed, under the aegis of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Also, the regime issued orders and warnings to the public and to the media, mostly about the regime oversight and monitoring of private civilian electronic communications such as email and text messages (SMS). It warned against using proxy websites and banned satellite broadcasts, with the aim of making it impossible to organize anti-regime protests. It has also set restrictions for both the press and websites regarding coverage of events, and has prohibited criticism of regime figures.

Restrictions, Censorship Have Ideological/Religious Backing

In a January 26, 2010 speech in Mazandaran province in northern Iran, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned against criticizing the regime, and issued a fatwa reiterating the religious ban on using satellite dishes and watching satellite broadcasts; only authorized bodies are exempt from the ban.[1]

Also, Ayatollahs Makarem Shirazi and Safi Golpaygani, who are supporters of the regime, issued fatwas banning watching satellite television and visiting or making contact with foreign websites.[2]

The IRGC Cyber Defense Command

In late 2009, the Iranian prosecutor-general issued a 45-item list of "cyber crimes" that would lead to the blocking of websites. Among these were insulting the founder of the Iranian revolutionary regime, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, or Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei; encouraging ethnic tension; and propagandizing against the regime.[3]

On January 11, 2010, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported that the regime had set up a cyber defense command, under the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), to oversee cyber crime connected to terrorism, espionage, economic corruption, and social crime, in cooperation with the state intelligence and judiciary apparatuses.[4] Saluki, a senior official in the command, said, "The IRGC warns all those who are trying to bring down the regime by means of a velvet revolution," and added that the command would carry out its mission "with determination and with full force."[5]

As part of the command's activity, the IRGC arrested several website managers for allegedly insulting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Basij on their websites, and for posting lies about the killing of protestors and about election fraud.[6]

Iranian army deputy commander Brig.-Gen. Masoud Jazayeri warned Iranian citizens against conspiring with foreign media connected to the U.S., Britain, and Israel, saying that those who did so were exploiting the Internet in order to bring down the regime. He called on the Majlis to pass appropriate legislation to deal with such transgressions.[7]

In mid-January 2010, Iranian police commander Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam announced that the regime was overseeing email and text message (SMS) traffic, and called the use of these media to organize anti-regime protests "a grave crime." He warned the public against trying to use proxy websites that circumvent regime blocking of foreign and domestic websites, because the regime was fully capable of identifying anyone who did so – and that the police and the judiciary would deal harshly with violators.[8] In addition, the authorities warned that citizens who used programs to circumvent blocking on Iranian websites would also be punished.[9]

On January 20, the Ahmadinejad government warned 15 daily newspapers, all reformist papers and supporters of protest movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, about their publishing of criticism of the government and of statements that the government was responsible for the crisis in Iran.[10]

Following the 'Ashura Day demonstrations, Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi called on the public to provide his ministry with any incriminating evidence about protestors.[11] On January 11, the Javan daily, which is close to the IRGC, published photos of 'Ashura Day protestors taken during demonstrations, and asked for the public's help in identifying them.[12] Police commander Ahmadi-Moqaddam later said that due to the public's cooperation, 70% of the 'Ashura Day protestors had been identified.[13]

Blocking and Disruption of Websites by the Regime

Along with this, the BBC's Persian Service announced that it had switched to a new satellite, after the Hotbird satellite dropped its broadcasts because of the Iranian regime's constant disruption of all its transmissions.[14]

Basij deputy commander Mohammad Ali Naini said that the enemy had invested many resources in waging an online "soft war" against the regime. He promised that the Basij, as the ones in charge of the struggle against this "soft war," would next year (that is, the Persian year, beginning March 21), conduct operations to conquer cyberspace.[15]

There are at least two groups of Iranian hackers known to exist: Ashyaneh and Iranian Cyber Army. In recent months, they have been launching attacks against websites identified with Iran's Green (Protest) movement, among them Mowjcamp, as well as against Twitter, as well as against websites operating outside the country, such as Radio Zamaneh, which works for Iranian human rights and is funded by the Netherlands government, and Khandaniha.eu.[16] In October 2009, a leader of Ashyaneh acknowledged that the group was operating in cooperation with most of the government organizations as well as with the Iranian army.[17]

Endnotes:

[1] Fars (Iran), January 26, 2010; Khamenei.ir, January 24, 2010

[2] Rasanews (Iran), January 12, 2010; Kayhan (Iran), January 24, 2010.

[3] Iranian prosecutor-general's website (Iran), December 29, 2009.

[4] The command's official website is www.gerdab.ir.

[5] IRNA (Iran), January 11, 2010.

[6] Fars, Iran, January 6, 2010.

[7] Mehr (Iran), January 16, 2010.

[8] Fararu (Iran), January 14, 2010.

[9] Jahannews (Iran), January 19, 2010.

[10] ISNA (Iran), January 20, 2010.

[11] ILNA (Iran), December 30, 2009.

[12] Javan (Iran), January 11, 2010.

[13] Kayhan (Iran), February 1, 2010.

[14] BBC, December 31, 2009.

[15] Mehr (Iran), January 30, 2010.

[17] IRNA (Iran), January 17, 2010; The MEMRI Blog, "Iranian Hacker: We Work in Cooperation with the Regime," October 17, 2009.