Can you hear me? Mom, do you hear me? I repeat frustrated into my cell phone as our WhatsApp video call cuts out for the third time. When the call resumes, we talk about the unwelcome presence of the Islamic republics in the life of every Iranian, which this time has manifested itself in the form of an unstable Internet.
Over the past two weeks, authorities have rolled out an update to its online censorship machine. This censorship behemoth has already blocked Iranians’ access to nearly all international news sources and all major social media platforms, except Instagram, as they are seen as weapons of the enemy by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In a February speech, Khamenei warned of the enemies’ hybrid war against Islam and the Islamic Republic and that the enemy, presumably the United States, is trying to use its media empire and social media in an assault to distort and destroy the clerical establishment. The Supreme Leader has called on the authorities to launch an enlightening jihad to bring war to the enemy.
This wasn’t the first or last time the 83-year-old leader has described social media as a weapon. Over the years, Khamenei has consistently voiced his opposition to Iranians’ unbridled access to the Internet. He even went so far as to set up the Supreme Cyberspace Council, dominated by security agencies with no public oversight, to regulate online spaces and formulate Iranian Internet policy.
Now, nearly thirty years after Iran went online, Khamenei is rushing to impose the digital iron veil he’s always dreamed of.
Switch to the censorship machine
In Iran, the number of internet subscriptions surpasses the country’s eighty-three million population as Iranians use more mobile and landline phone services to get online.
While much of the nation is connected, the Islamic Republic has blocked access to much of the internet. Therefore, around 80% of Iranians rely on censorship-avoidance tools, such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxies to browse the web.
Since mid-June, the Islamic Republic has rolled out a new censorship machine, aggressively targeting VPNs via a method often used by scammers: Domain Name System (DNS) hijacking.
DNS works like a phone book: it allows users to reach the desired web domain. Hackers, in this case, the Islamic Republic manipulate this phone book to deny users access to specific addresses or lead them to false destinations. Using this method, the state is cutting off access to popular services such as Instagram, the only non-banned international social media platform in the country.
The regime also used the same method to manipulate people’s access to the Google search engine. When Iranians of all ages attempt to visit Google.com, their Internet traffic is redirected to http://forcesafesearch.google.com, which only displays age-appropriate content for children under 13.
Information and Communications Technologies Minister Isa Zarepour defended the move, saying the government has only curtailed easy access to immoral and violent content in response to repeated requests from families.
At the same time, the state is employing invasive measures such as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to target encryption protocols. Encryption tools translate online communications into hard-to-crack code to protect the privacy of Iranians. Since technology blinds prying eyes, the clerical establishment has had a historical aversion to encryption and has criminalized it since 2009. In the new campaign, the establishment simply stops the delivery of encrypted packets. This made WhatsApp video calls, like mine, unstable even though the Meta-owned messaging service is not blocked in Iran.
As if all these invasive measures weren’t enough, the government of hardline President Ebrahim Raisi is expanding the online caste system that was initially introduced under his moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani. In this system, users are categorized by profession and proximity to power centers and have varying levels of Internet access. The system has been in use since at least 2018 and employed by journalists close to the establishment, who peddle disinformation on blocked social media platforms like Twitter, especially during social unrest.
New Reign of Terror
Whenever the Islamic Republic hits a deadlock in its foreign policy and is faced with an external threat, it immediately activates its internal oppression machine.
With prospects for reviving the 2015 nuclear deal fading, the economy collapsing, food and water crises ongoing, public frustration boiling over and mounting civil unrestthe clerical establishment appears to be preparing for another reign of terror similar to that of the 1980s, when thousands of political prisoners were summarily executed.
In a June 28 speech, Khamenei alluded to that dark era. He told the judicial authorities that power is a divine blessing that must be used and not wasted, and invited them not to let themselves be influenced by public opinion and to launch a ruthless repression against all forms of dissent and online freedom.
With executive power in the hands of President Raisi, who is accused of crimes against humanity, and the judiciary controlled by Chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, who has journalists’ blood on his hands, officials don’t need much encouragement from the supreme leader. to unleash brute force against the Iranian people.
Executions in Iran more than doubled in the first half of 2022, with 251 people hanged compared to 117 in the first half of last year. Furthermore, rights advocates have warned that, just as in the past four decades, marginalized groups and ethnic minorities are bearing the brunt of state oppression.
The state has responded to the water and food protests with batons, water cannons, tear gas, bullets and internet outages. At the same time, he launched a repression of the hijabtrying to segregate work spaces and deprive women of basic services for failing to observe the Islamic dress code, while violently arresting them for the same reason for the streets.
And, in the background, the regime is implementing aggressive online censorship methods to tighten its grip on the flow of information.
Frustrated by the bleak outlook, I sought advice, or perhaps solace, from a former political prisoner, who served four years in Islamic Republic prisons during the 1980s and survived execution by pure chance.
He pointed out that, throughout history, faced with state brutality, both at home and abroad, people have not relied on the Internet to overthrow laws and despotic rulers.
Sayeh Isfahaniis an advocate, journalist, and internet researcher with years of experience working in Iran, including work related to the LGBTQI community.
Wednesday 8 June 2022
From the Cinema Rex to the Metropol, Iranians have had enough
On May 23, a ten-story commercial tower collapsed on people’s heads in Abadan. With each body recovered from the ruins, public anger has grown, leading to ongoing street protests in multiple areas of Khuzestan province and beyond.
Thu 13 January 2022
Iranians on #SocialMedia
This report from the Future of Iran Initiative and the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) explores the social media habits of Iranian netizens and how the Islamic Republic is cracking down on the online space.
#internet #place #Khameneis #vision #Irans #future
Image Source : www.atlanticcouncil.org