Iran Pushes for Regime, Military Control of Internet After Year of Unrest

A group of Iranian lawmakers is pushing to hand control of the country's internet over to a committee composed of powerful elements of the regime, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Forty members of the Iranian parliament had signed the motion as of Monday, according to Radio Farda. The proposal—titled "Organizing Social Media Messaging," would also ban foreign messaging apps and replace them with domestically-produced ones, which may hand the regime closer surveillance capabilities.

The legislation would also introduce new penalties for anyone offering foreign messaging apps or ways around the restrictions, for example VPNs. Those violating the new proposal will face a "six degree" imprisonment or fine, meaning anywhere from six months to two years in prison, and a fine of between $475 and $1,900.

A "domestic messaging app" will mean more than 50 percent of the program's shares must be held by an Iranian citizen, it must be hosted in Iran, and its operations must abide by the country's laws.

The proposal would establish an "Organizing Committee" to oversee licenses for approved messaging apps, monitor them and investigate all complaints related to their operations.

This central body would bring together all elements of the regime, including the powerful IRGC's Intelligence Organization.

It would also include the head of the Cyberspace Center; a representative from the ministries of Intelligence, Culture and Islamic Guidance, and Communication; the Attorney General's Office; the Cultural Commission; the state-run National Radio and Television body; the Islamic Propagation Organization; the police; and the quasi-military National Passive Defense Organization.

Iran already bans many popular foreign social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Though Instagram is still allowed, lawmakers are also trying to block the app. The ban for citizens does not stop regime leaders from using foreign apps to reach a global audience.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for example, has multiple Twitter profiles in different languages, and his English channel has more than 810,000 followers. President Hassan Rouhani has 1.1 million followers, and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif 1.5 million.

The regime also habitually throttles the internet to subdue anti-government unrest, whether over allegedly rigged elections, anger over death penalties for protesters, or demonstrations related to poor quality of life and a struggling economy.

Internet watchdogs reported disruption in July following an online campaign against death penalties handed to people involved in last year's mass protests. Then, Iranian internet users endured weeks of patchy connection as the regime sought to crush demonstrations over a controversial new fuel tax.

The State Department claimed that some 1,500 protesters were killed by regime forces suppressing the unrest. Iranians again took to the streets in January after Iranian troops accidentally shot down a passenger plane over Tehran amid a military stand off with the U.S.

Earlier this month, the regime was forced to step in and deal with strikes by oil and petrochemical workers in the south of the country, who began protesting poor working conditions and unpaid wages following several worker deaths.

The unpaid wages and poor working conditions in these vital industries speak to the disruption of U.S. sanctions on Iranian industry. The sanctions—part of President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign—are designed to cut vital Iranian exports and further undermine the creaking national economy.

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This file photo shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivering a speech during the inaugural session of the new parliament in Tehran on May 27, 2020, following February elections. -/AFP via Getty Images/Getty