Iran Vows to Block All “Unlicensed” Websites

Rouhani supporters in Tehran. Photo by Tabarez2 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Rouhani supporters in Tehran. Photo by Tabarez2 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Last week, Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance announced that all news websites that do not obtain government-issued licenses will be blocked nationwide.

Hassan Mehrabi, the Ministry's director of local press regulations declared that all news websites in the future must obtain licenses from the Ministry's press supervisory board. Further details about the new policy appeared in a report covered by the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA). The announcement was made on “Journalist's Day,” a vaguely-defined national day to recognize the work of journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders, with 65 journalists and netizens in prison, Iran is among the top five jailers of those working in the media sector.

Prior to the new regulation, most websites registered within Iran would abide by self-censorship in order to avoid being filtered. Targets of filtering have often been reformist websites, such as those associated with the Green Movement and its leaders.

This news comes three months after moderate President Hassan Rouhani's conference on information and communications technologies, where he announced, “The right of citizens to have access to international networks of information is something we formally recognize. Why are we so nervous? Why don’t we trust our youth?”

Twitter users were quick to criticize the President for the new regulation under his government. Rouhani's 2013 election victory has largely been attributed to his progressive campaign promises, among them guarantees for a freer Internet. 

Internet researcher and avid Twitter user Nariman Gharib, known as @ListenToUs, criticized the new regulation as an affront to the principles of the open Web:

“Hassan Rouhani who makes this his business must know that once something goes online it cannot be filtered. When content enters the Internet it's there and cannot be controlled.” 

“We have something called the situation of freedom of information, which Mr. Rouhani doesn't seem to want to take place, and is making childish decisions instead.” 

Gharib also referenced the popular slogan of hope, “Rouhani Mochakerim” in a tweet criticizing the new website regulation:

“Thankful? Ministry of Culture: “All news sites must acquire a license or will get filtered.””.” 

Following Rouhani's 2013 election victory, Iranian Internet users started using the phrase (#روحانی_مچکریم) in a demonstration of gratitude and hope for a new era under the moderate President. Mochakerim, meaning “thankful” in Persian, soon became a phrase uttered sarcastically, a tacit reference to Rouhani's popularity, which has managed to persist, despite the relative lack of domestic change he has brought to the country.

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