June 22, 2017 - Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the increase in Internet censorship and harassment of citizen-journalists in Iran. According to RSF’s tally, 94 Internet users, mainly users of the instant messaging service Telegram, have been arrested since the start of the year. More and more journalists are falling victim to the war between different government factions.
RSF has learned that, on 9 April, 12-year jail sentences were imposed on three citizen-journalists who were arrested in September 2016 in connections with content they had posted on Telegram.
Users of Telegram, which is very popular in Iran, are increasingly being targeted. Telegram creator Pavel Durov has said that “Telegram has not entered into any agreements with any government on this planet,” and has “no plans to.” But statements by Iranian officials seem to belie this claim.
Information and communications technology minister Mahmoud Vaezi told parliament on 7 June: “Rather than block Telegram, which would drive users to turn to another app, we have reach an agreement with those in charge of it to block content of a sexual or anti-religious nature and content condoning violence and terrorism.”
A total of 173,000 Telegram accounts have so far been blocked. Vaezi said he had “launched an intelligent filtering that has enabled the verification of 400 million logos and images.” He said his ministry did not monitor the content of posts but added that, “in the past three years, at least 7 million addresses and 121 software applications for bypassing filtering have been blocked.”
The censorship and persecution, which is officially intended to protect the public from immoral content, has been extended to political and religious content and to websites dedicated to human rights and women’s rights.
Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, who heads the committee in charge of identifying unauthorized websites, reported in March 2017 that “more than 18,000 volunteers monitor the Internet and report crimes committed on social networks to the prosecutor’s office.”
According to RSF’s tally, at least 94 Internet users, mostly Telegram users, have been arrested since the start of 2017. In most cases, journalists and citizen-journalists arrested by the regime are charged with cyber-crimes or immoral acts.