The Internet has no place in Khamenei’s vision for Iran’s future

The Internet has no place in Khamenei’s vision for Iran’s future

Sayeh Isfahani

“Can you hear me?” Mom, can you hear me?” I repeat frustratedly into my cell phone as our WhatsApp video call drops for the third time. When the call resumes, we’re talking about the unwanted presence of the Islamic Republic in every Iranian’s life, this time in the form of a broken internet.

In the past few weeks, the authorities have started “updateto its online censorship machine. The censorship giant has already cut off Iranians’ access to almost all international news sources and all major social media platforms except Instagram, as they are viewed as weapons of the enemy by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei in his February speech warned 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 to “attack, distort, and destroy” the clerics. establishment. The supreme leader called on the authorities to start an “enlightenment jihad” to take the war to the “enemy”.

It wasn’t the first or last time the 83-year-old leader used social media as a weapon. Khamenei over the years consistently spoke up its contrast to the Iranians “unbridled” access to the internet. He even went that far setting The Supreme Cyberspace Council, dominated by security agencies without public oversight, to “regulate” online spaces and formulate Iran’s internet policy.

Now, almost three decades later Iran has turned on The Internet is rushing to impose the digital iron curtain Khamenei has always dreamed of.

Update the censorship machine

Number of Internet in Iran subscriptions exceeds the country’s population of eighty-three million, as Iranians use multiple mobile and landline services to get online.

Although most of the nation is connected, the Islamic Republic has blocked access to most of the internet. Therefore, approx 80 percent of Iranians rely on censorship circumvention tools such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and proxies to surf the web.

Since mid-June, the Islamic Republic has been rolling out a new censorship engine that aggressively targets VPNs using a method often used by scammers; Domain Name System (DNS) hijacking.

DNS works like a phone book, allowing users to reach the web domain they want. Hackers, in this case the Islamic Republic, manipulate this phone book to deny users access to specific addresses or take them to fake destinations. Using this method, the state blocks access to popular services such as Instagram, the only international social media platform banned in the country.

The regime also used the same method manipulate people’s access to Google search engine. When Iranians of all ages try to visit, their Internet traffic is redirected to only shows age-appropriate content for children under 13 years of age.

Minister of Information and Communication Technologies Isa Zarepour defended the move, saying the government had only restricted “easy access” to “immoral and violent” content in response to “repeated requests from families”.

At the same time, the state is using intrusive measures such as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to target encryption protocols. Encryption tools turn online communications into hard-to-decipher code to protect Iranians’ privacy. Because technology blinds prying eyes, the clerical establishment has historically had an aversion to encryption and has has criminalized it since 2009. In the new campaign, the facility simply disrupts the delivery of encrypted packets. This has made WhatsApp video calls, like my own, unstable, even though the Meta-owned messaging service is not blocked in Iran.

As if all these invasive measures were not enough, the government of hardline President Ebrahim Raisi is expanding. online caste system that was it originally introduced under his moderate predecessor Hassan Rouhani. In this system, users are classified based on their profession and proximity to power centers and are provided with different levels of Internet access. The system has been in place since at least that day 2018 and employed by pro-establishment journalists who spread disinformation on blocked social media platforms such as Twitter, especially social unrest.

A new reign of terror

Whenever the Islamic Republic finds itself at a stalemate in its foreign policy and faces an external threat, it immediately puts its oppressive machinery into action at home.

With prospects of reviving the 2015 nuclear deal dimmingeconomy collapsing, ongoing food and water crises, simmering public disillusionment and growing civil unrestthe clerical establishment seems to be preparing for another terror similar to the 1980s, when thousands of political prisoners. were summarily executed.

In his June 28 speech, Khamenei alluded to that dark period. He told the judiciary that the power was a “divine blessing” that “must be used and not wasted” and urged them not to be swayed by public opinion and to crack down relentlessly on “dissent” and online freedoms.

Executive power rests in the hands of President Raisi, who is accused of crimes against humanity, and the judiciary is controlled by Chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, who has the blood of journalists. his handsofficials do not need much encouragement from the Supreme Leader to unleash brutal force against the Iranian people.

It is the death penalty in Iran more than doubled In the first half of 2022, 251 people were hanged, compared to 117 in the first half of last year. However, rights advocates warned that, as in the past four decades, marginalized groups and: ethnic minorities they take on themselves state pressures.

The state has responded to water and food protests with batons, water cannons, tear gas, bullets and internet shutdowns. Simultaneously launched a Hijab pressuretrying to segregate work spaces and deny women basic services for not adhering to an “Islamic” dress code, while; arrest them by force in the streets for the same reason.

And, in the background, the regime is using aggressive online censorship methods to tighten its control over the flow of information.

Frustrated by the bleak outlook, I sought advice, or perhaps consolation, from a former political prisoner who served four years in Islamic Republic prisons in the 1980s and narrowly escaped execution.

He pointed out that throughout history, in the face of state brutality, whether at home or abroad, people have not relied on the Internet to overthrow tyrannical laws and rulers.

Sayeh Isfahani attorney, journalist and web researcher with years of experience working in Iran, including work related to the LGBTQ community.

Further reading

Image: In a June 28 speech, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called on judicial authorities to crack down mercilessly against “dissent” and all forms of online freedom. SOURCE:

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