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Internet and social media pose a serious challenge to Iran’s regime

Iran's regime plans to block access to principal online services and applications
Iran's regime plans to block access to principal online services and applications

Analysis by PMOI/MEK

Iran, July 29, 2021—The Iranian regime's Majlis (parliament) has just passed a new bill to limit internet access in Iran.

"According to the second addendum of Article 28, if after four months from the implementation of this bill well-known foreign platforms don’t obtain a license and introduce a representative in the country, they will be filtered if an alternative [to their platform] is introduced. Accordingly, if the High Regulatory Commission approves the internal replacement of services such as Google, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc., these services should be filtered immediately after four months," according to a July 26 report by the Hamshahri daily.

Many experts, media and regime officials warn against the implications of the parliament's attempt to censor social media. They say the new plan will create a huge wall of censorship, cause problems for many people, and possibly spark a nationwide uprising.

Arman newspaper considers this plan to be technically impractical because "the era of filtering, restrictions and blocking is over" and the regime does not have the technical capacity to block internet access.

"The society does not accept such measures, and since today the internet has become an important part of the people's basket of goods, and the current situation of society and the dissatisfaction in society is rampant, negative measures to cyberspace and social networks cannot be taken. The plan to confront and block social networks is already a failed plan and will not only be welcomed by the people and will cause dissatisfaction and protest among the people," according to the Arman daily on July 26.

In addition to expressing his main concern that the plan would cause public discontent and protest, Arman's article also points to the loss of livelihoods of many of people, which "also endangers the existence of tens of thousands of Internet businesses," and “the country's military strength will be weakened, and national security will be vulnerable,” According to the Arman daily posted on May 26.

Aftab-e Yazd, another state-run newspaper, called the plan a "wave of concern among users and digital business activists" and wrote on July 26: "Some critics of the plan argue that if internet’s restriction plan is implemented , countless jobs will be in danger of shutting down and stagnating, and that increasing pressure on the working class will lead to economic and social crises.”

Hamdeli newspaper also quoted analyst Ahmad Zeidabadi as saying that the plan was "pouring gasoline on the fire" and wrote: "Fighting technology is useless and is like fighting windmills, and it will retrigger public outrage over the internet. This is nothing but a continuation of stubbornness to get on the nation's nerves.”

In a letter to regime president Ebrahim Raisi and Majlis Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, communications minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi called the Majlis’ plan a new problem in building trust to the country's governing system.

The fact is that, as is clear from the above-mentioned statements, the opposition of the regime officials to the plan is not out of concern for the people’s interests, but out of concern for a spark that will cause a nationwide explosion and uprising.

The regime seeks to block the free flow of information to the people and, fearing the possibility of widespread Internet communication in the face of widespread protests, seeks to limit it as much as possible.

So restricting and censoring the Internet, while the business of millions of people relies on it, is dangerous for the regime.

But on the other hand, not implementing this plan also poses danger to the regime. In the current situation where protests and uprisings of different strata of people are taking place every day in various cities, cyberspace and the internet are a very strong lever to spread information about protests and coordinate movements.

On July 28, the Majlis decided to ratify the bill to limit internet access.

A request by a group of MPs was put forth to review the 37 articles of the so-called “protection of users' rights in cyberspace act” and was approved with 121 votes out of 209 deputies present in the parliament.

It should be noted that during the past 13 days, several cities across the country have witnessed mass demonstrations due to the lack of the most basic living necessities such as water and electricity. But Majlis members, whose top priority is to preserve the mullahs’ hold on power, decided that in these circumstances it is necessary to address issues such as cyberspace and limiting access to internet.

This further proves the regime’s unsolvable dilemma, one that is bound to get worse if authorities carry out with their threats to block internet services.