The Iranian Supreme Council of Cyberspace announced yesterday that a new law allows judicial and government agencies to monitor websites, apps, or social media accounts that have more than 5,000 viewers or members. 

The state-run news agency IRNA specified that this includes Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram, while the website IT Iran specified that account owners must take down posts deemed “unreal” as soon as it is reported, before posting an explanation and reporting to the authorities. 

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The law says that the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry and the Foreign Affairs Ministry must set up a way to collect information on the people reached by these accounts and sites in order to “actively combat false information”. 

However, the Iranian Resistance is worried that this is actually a major censorship scandal, designed to limit or erase any posts critical of the regime or containing data that the regime seeks to hide, such as the number of coronavirus deaths. After all, the regime has several times recently been involved in efforts to supress the truth. 

During the November 2019 uprising, the regime enforced a 3-day internet blackout so that protesters would find it harder to organise and to alert outside sources. 

In October 2020, the regime disrupted the internet in Tehran after the death of musician Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, who protested against the regime in the 2009 protests, to stop people paying their respects. Additionally, two administrators from Telegram were arrested for “insulting” officials. 

No wonder Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Iran 173 out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. 

The regime also has a plan to create a domestic intranet (National Information Network or NIN) that would be separated from the global internet that would censor what information was available to Iranians. NIN, which would also involve a domestic email system, search engine, social media, messenger, user registration, and operating system, was proposed in 2005 and signed by so-called moderate President Hassan Rouhani last year. 

Human rights said that this would deny Iranians freedom of information and has the goal of cutting the population off from the world, rather than anything about stopping crime or increasing domestic production. 

A Freedom House report said that the tactic of applying national sovereignty to cyberspace is used by autocratic governments and gives them “free rein to crack down on human rights while ignoring objections from local civil society and the international community”.