The Iranian officials have increased their efforts to censor internet content and block social media in order to stop people from learning about protests or organise future ones, as the situation in Iran becomes more explosive.
State Security Forces’ Special Forces unit commander Hassan Karami said on Monday that the regime’s enemies are using the internet to “infiltrate” Iranian culture, while Tehran prosecutor, Ali Alghasi Mehr, had previously expressed fear over how protesters were using social media channels to organise more effectively.
On March 25, Golestan province’s IRGC commander Ali Malek Shahkoohi said: “The [regime’s] sworn opponents and enemies tried to divide and create insecurity in the province through social networks and cyberspace and their internal agents by abusing the Gonbad incident.”
This came shortly after a major protest rally in Gonbad Kavus, where local residents clashed with police after the judiciary’s refusal to charge a security agent accused of raping two girls, aged seven and eight.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei used his New Year address on March 21 to call for increased controls on social media, also saying that “the enemy” is using the internet to “discourage the people”. Khamenei’s speech led Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commander Hossein Salami to say that the IRGC will take control of the internet.
However, the Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi warned that blocking sites isn’t feasible thanks to “advanced encryption and satellite tools”. Azari Jahromi, a long-time intelligence officer who helped establish a technical infrastructure to identify dissidents from online posts, instituted a major internet blackout during the November 2019 protests. His acknowledgement that the government cannot control the internet is telling.
The Iranian opposition wrote: “There are two reasons for the regime’s deadlock in controlling online activities. First is the huge explosive potential of Iran’s society. The population, especially the youth, are fed up with the tyranny and corruption of the regime. They use every possibility to organize protests and.. have always found ways to circumvent censorship and have their voices heard. Second is technological advances that are making it harder and eventually impossible to block access to the internet and social media. Satellite internet technology is becoming more prevalent and… more resilient against mass signal filtering techniques that the regime uses to block access to satellite channels.”