A new law for even more internet censorship sparked a huge wave of protests in Iran. There is also a dangerous split between society and politics in leadership.
Tehran (dpa) – A law in Iran’s parliament for even more internet censorship has sparked an unprecedented wave of protests in the country and also at management level.
“This law is dividing society like a cleaver,” Culture Minister Abbas Salehi tweeted on Wednesday. The Ministry of Communications, which is actually responsible for the Internet, also reacted indignantly to the parliamentary decision. “The new law is irrational, illegal and ultimately doomed to fail … that’s why everyone is vehemently against it,” said Deputy Minister Amir Nasemi. An unprecedented wave of protests against parliament has been raging on social media since Wednesday morning.
The background to the protests is a new internet law that the hardliners in parliament managed to enforce after much back and forth. 121 of the 209 MPs present voted in favor of the new law on Wednesday, but declined to publicly debate it due to the many points of contention. The details are to be finalized in a technical committee and then, according to the constitution, passed to the so-called Guardian Council for final confirmation. However, observers believe that newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi will veto the law after being sworn in on Aug. 5.
Officially, the law deals with Internet surveillance and nationalization, i.e. creating Iranian alternatives to popular online services. However, critics fear that many platforms will be paralyzed. In addition, the law requires all internet users to be registered and bans all VPN apps that Iranians use to access unauthorized websites through data tunnels. The Internet has been a thorn in the side of the Islamic establishment for years because it has completely undermined the state-controlled media. For example, reports of unrest or public protests could still be censored, but that is no longer possible on social media. Young people in particular follow political developments only on the internet, especially on Twitter, and ignore the state-controlled media.
The government has tried in recent years to introduce domestic alternatives, such as courier services, but the plans ultimately failed. According to a survey by the Iranian research group ISPA, more than 70 percent of Iranians use WhatsApp, but only 5 percent use Iran’s Sorusch Messenger. WhatsApp could also be added to the banned list with the new law.
An internet blockade would also have serious economic consequences for the country, especially after the outbreak of the corona pandemic in February of the previous year. Since then, many businesses run online through the Instagram platform. It is used by more than 50 million Iranians, but could be blocked under the new law. According to media reports, the source of income for at least one million people would be at risk in this case.