In an earlier post I discussed attempts by Egyptian authorities to crack down on bloggers and the free flow of information in that society. The censorship threat is even worse in Iran, where the state goes to extraordinary lengths to control the media … especially thoughts and images being channeled from Great Satan that are liable to incite lusts or non-Islamic ideas.
The video sharing site YouTube is the latest casualty in Tehran’s crackdown on porn, gays, dissidents and overseas opponents of the regime who might try to corrupt the minds of a populace that has long been used to Big Daddy Mullah controlling the newspapers … and more recently, the internet.
Iranians who have tried to access YouTube come across the ominous message …
“On the basis of the Islamic Republic of Iran laws, access to this website is not authorized”.
I’m not sure if the print warning is accompanied by strains of the Iranian national anthem, but it is guaranteed to creep out those who are just interested in surfing and having fun.
The Iranian government, runs some of the most extensive filtering on the planet. This is detailed in a report put out by OpenNet Initiative. University based researchers who were part of an OpenNet experiment, remotely accessed computers within Iran using a variety of methods – direct dialling into ISP’s, use of remote-control software and routing via servers within Iran. They discovered that 34% of 1,465 URLs tested were blocked. All porno sites were blocked, most gay sites were blocked, as were many sites and blogs dealing with sensitive political topics.
This official effort to shut and zip people up extends most particularly to any bloggers attempting to express their views in Farsi. Iranian bloggers with anything to say that is critical of the regime, have less than a snowball’s chance in hell of expressing those opinions to an internet audience within Iran. If they do succeed in pulling off that minor miracle, the harsh penalties make the risk too costly for many.
Ironically the regime makes use of technology produced in the West to accomplish its censorship goals. One package they are known to have used is SmartFilter, put out by the US company Smart Computing. This is somewhat similar to the state-of-affairs in China where government run ISP’s filter everything from porn to politically sensitive material.
Iranian surfers can attempt to circumvent government controls by using proxy servers, although apparently the cyber mullahs have also managed to block many of these. Programs for routing data and disguising traffic is the better option, but any of these activities could land the user in hot water with the authorities, so such options carry a certain amount of risk.
Of course this attempt to muffle the flow of information is also part of a drive to shut up opponents of the regime. YouTube’s “crime” was acting as a conduit for videos posted by groups such as Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and other critics of the Islamic Republic. Pop songs are also routinely targeted.
In October of this year Reporters Without Borders placed Iran in a group of 13 of the worst global culprits in the area of online censorship, the others are … Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Aidan Maconachy is a freelance writer and artist based in Ontario. You can visit his blog at http://aidanmaconachyblog.blogspot.com/
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