Stories from Quick Reads and Iran
Could using a cell phone in Iran entangle you with ”terrorists”?
This might be the case if Iran's Revolutionary Guards who control the country's telecommunications monopoly are designated as “terrorists”. This is a possibility being discussed as U.S. politicians and lawmakers consider how stringently to impose economic sanctions on Iran once the sanctions related to the country's nuclear program are removed. The passing of the 14 July nuclear accord signed in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 is becoming more of certainty after Democratic senators filibustered Republican efforts to block the deal on 10 September.
In a recent New York Times article, the newspaper's chief military correspondent Walter Gordon explains the promises President Obama had to make to skeptical Democrats he needed on his side. To this effect, the President has emphasized that the United States would increase sanctions on Iran's activities related to terrorism in the region, as well as human rights abuses.
Designating the Revolutinary Guards as “terrorists” is a way U.S. lawmakers are proposing to take this a step further. Amendments to sanctions on Iran would discourage business with any Iranian firm with an association with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps through the designation.
WHOA U.S. lawmakers planning on designating Iran Rev. Guards as a “terrorist organization” making business impossible http://t.co/NeKuNgxoaW
— Thomas Erdbrink (@ThomasErdbrink) September 11, 2015
Many have already predicted the Revolutionary Guards stand to benefit the most from nuclear sanctions relief on Iran, as they maintain a foothold in crucial sectors of the country's economy, including construction, communications, banking and energy. The Guards also have a minority stake, or influence through membership or executive positions in hundreds of Iranian companies across a wide range of sectors.
If Iran Rev. Guards are designated “terrorists” @nytimes will be violation of sanctions. Like millions I use mobile phone provider they own.
— Thomas Erdbrink (@ThomasErdbrink) September 11, 2015
Saman Naseem, a juvenile Kurdish activist who went through a five month period of disappearance since his scheduled execution in February was able to call his relatives from prison this past weekend, according to Amnesty International. The day before he was due to be executed, he was transferred to an unknown location, which has now been confirmed to be Zanjan Prison. Neither his family nor lawyers were given any concrete information about his whereabouts until now.
Global Voices followed the story of the 22 year old Saman Naseem last winter as activists petitioned for the release of the Kurdish activist arrested while he was still a teenager for being a member of an armed Kurdish opposition group.
Activists and lawyers working on Naseem's case, alongside his family were left in the dark about the status of his case and whereabouts after his scheduled execution was cancelled. Working until the last minute, several campaigns placed international pressure on Iran to stop the execution on February 19. His death sentence and imprisonment is unjustified under Iran's own laws and international obligations, given that Naseem was a minor (just 17 years old) when he was arrested.
In a statement on Naseem's Amnesty Campaign page, Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa explained:
The welcome revelation that Saman Naseem was not executed and will receive a retrial is incredible news for his relatives, but raises very troubling questions about what the authorities have been doing to him while they held him in secret.
Mohammad Moghimi, the attorney of the Iranian activist and cartoonist Atena Faraghdani was arrested on 10 June following a visit to his client in jail. His charges are based on the fact that he shook Faraghdani's hand. Faraghdani was recently sentenced to 12.5 years in prison for posting drawings and content critical of the government on her Facebook page.
According to the Human Rights Activist News Agency, Moghimi has been transferred to ward 10 of Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj. His bail has been set to 20 million tomans -approximately $7000 USD. It is likely Faraghdani will face similar charges.
— Mansoureh Mills (@Mansourehmi) June 14, 2015
— Katniss/Lisbeth (@shokufeyesib) June 16, 2015
The social media campaign for Faraghdani's release can be followed under the #freeAtena hashtag.
This post first appeared on iranhumanrights.org and is published here in collaboration with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said last week that the Tehran Municipality is prepared to enter negotiations with the Iranian Judiciary to convert the Evin Prison complex in northwestern Tehran into a public park.
For decades, the notorious Evin Prison has been one of the primary facilities where Iranian political prisoners have been detained, interrogated, tortured, and executed. Some of the worst testimonies about torture and forced confessions at Evin are related to at least three separate wards Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and the IRGC operate within the complex, unmonitored by the Iranian Judiciary.
On January 21, during the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei penned an open letter to the ‘youth in Europe and North America’ defending Islam, and the Western world's skewed reception of the religion. He also started tweeting the sentiments of the letter on his @khamenei_ir twitter account, starting the hashtag #Letter4U. A closer look of this hashtag indicates it remains active through bots, which are still crawling through Twitter four months after the launch of the campaign.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) January 21, 2015
In late March Morgan Carlston noted that spam bots were promoting the hashtag on Twitter.
Morgan elaborated in a blog post:
There are hundreds if not thousands of accounts, most of them with over 10000 tweets. Twitter has a limit of 1000 tweets per day, and the accounts seem to have been created with this in mind.
Many of the accounts use fake photos taken from a variety of places. Some of them show celebrities, while others journalists or other media personalities.
— Morgan Carlston (@MorganCarlston) March 22, 2015
David Masad, a computational science researcher retrieved the tweet rhythm for the hashtag between May 8th to the 11th, and found the image below, which indicates that bots are still being deployed to spread tweets with the #letter4u hashtag, along with a link to Khamenei's website. Mason explained in an email to Global Voices,
The chart shows the exact same number of tweets using the hashtag being tweeted at precise, regular intervals, with no changes based on the time of day. Human conversations go in bursts, exhibit cycles based on times of day that people are in Twitter, and in general are *not* regular.
26 year old British-Iranian Goncheh Ghavami was arrested in Iran on June 2014 for protesting for equal access for women during sporting events. She was arrested after she attempted to attend a men-only volleyball match at Azadi Indoor Stadium in Tehran. International petitions have been ongoing for her release, until her release on March 31, 2015. Her brother Iman Ghavami posted on petition.org, where many had signed for her release of the news:
Mar 31, 2015 — I have big news for you.
Today I can tell you that Ghoncheh is free! As we were celebrating Iranian New year, Iranian Government wiped out the rest of my sister's sentence. Ghoncheh will not have to spend another day, another hour in prison.
This is amazing news and I wanted you to hear from me directly. You stood by us during those difficult months. You gave my family courage and hope. The uncertainty of autumn and the dark clouds of winter have gone. And the sun once again is shining for my family. Spring is here.
My mum has finally become her old happy self and has found peace again. My mum and I will not forget your generous support and thank you sincerely. Together we brought Ghoncheh home. Ghoncheh also asked me to thank you all for your support.
This has been the best spring for my family. Hopefully this spring brings happiness and peace to all Iranians and all of you.
London based Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad won the 2015 Women's Rights Award at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy for her Facebook page “My Stealthy Freedom” this past week. The page invites Iranian women to post pictures of themselves without a Hijab, in defiance of Iran's Islamic laws that enforce compulsory hijab. With over 750, 000 followers, this page has been considered something of social media movement for Iranian women.
Below is a video from her acceptance speech at the Summit:
Iranian judiciary has set a one-month deadline for Hassan Rohani's government to block or to control messaging applications Viber, WhatsApp and TangoMe.
— Sobhan Hassanvand (@Hassanvand) September 20, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rohani said in a speech on September 1 that the Internet is vital and Iran “cannot close the gates of the world for the younger generation.”
The next day, two Grand Ayatollahs defended high-speed Internet a few days after another Grand Ayatollah warned about it.
IMPORTANT #Iran president Rouhani made a new speech defending internet & new technology with emphasis on youth – challenging conservatives.
— Negar Mortazavi (@NegarMortazavi) September 2, 2014
This past Wednesday a rally gathered in New York's Time Square to oppose the nuclear deal reached between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China). The effort was meant to send a message to the U.S. congress to veto the deal. The Associated Press described it as a event consisting mainly “of pro-Israel supporters, though organizers said it represents Americans of all faiths and political convictions.” Congress has 60 days to review the agreement that lifts sanctions on Iran in exchange for measures by the Iranian government to prevent developing a nuclear weapon.
BBC Persian correspondent Bahman Kalbasi was in the crowd to tweet details of the event, and to criticize media outlets such as CBS for describing the event as ‘packed’.
— Bahman Kalbasi (@BahmanKalbasi) July 22, 2015
“We are letting the Persian tiger out of the cage“ says Mr. Zuckerman. The first speaker of the anti- #IranDeal protester.
— Bahman Kalbasi (@BahmanKalbasi) July 22, 2015
— Bahman Kalbasi (@BahmanKalbasi) July 22, 2015
Nope, they didn’t pack it. https://t.co/FYlAF5nGNE
— Bahman Kalbasi (@BahmanKalbasi) July 23, 2015
Global Voices collaborators the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran released a newly written report yesterday entitled “High Hopes, Tempered Expectations: Views from Iran on the Nuclear Negotiations.”
The report engaged with 28 members of Iranian civil society including former members of the Iranian Parliament, journalists, academics, lawyers, economists, filmmakers, writers, publishers, actresses, playwrights, activists, and family members of political prisoners. The key finding was unanimous support for the nuclear negotiations and an agreement to lift sanctions. The following are some of the key findings made from this sample group.
• Seventy-one percent of respondents expect economic benefits from an accord, typically citing increased investment and oil revenues, and gains to employment, manufacturing, and growth. However, one-fifth of those expecting economic gains believe these benefits could be lost to ordinary Iranians due to governmental mismanagement.
• Twenty-five percent of all respondents expect any economic benefits would reach only the upper levels of society and those connected to power, due to entrenched and rampant corruption and the administration’s lack of authority to confront rival centers of power.
• Sixty-one percent of the respondents believe a deal would improve the chances of achieving political and cultural reforms, as the administration could now turn its attention to such issues and it would be significantly strengthened politically in its ability to enact change.
• Thirty-six percent expected no improvement in political or cultural freedoms. Some cited the Rouhani administration’s lack of power and authority, especially vis-à-vis the legislative and judicial branches and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Others questioned Rouhani’s willingness to push forward with reforms, noting his few efforts even in the spheres that are under the president’s direct control.
This post first appeared on Arseh Sevom's Dar Sahn page.
Iran’s deputy interior minister announced that the police and the intelligence ministry would be monitoring the internet and social media for activity regarding the upcoming elections in the country.
In a press conference in Tehran during the week of June 1, 2015, Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaghari announced that a “Security Committee” to monitor election-related activities would be created earlier than expected. “The security committee will be made up of representatives from the police, Revolutionary Guards, army, and state radio and television.” Zolfaghari also added that similar committees would be created throughout Iran.
In view of the sensitive situation on Iran’s western borders and the movements of terrorist groups such as IS in the area, the upcoming Iranian elections will take place in an atmosphere of security.
The deputy interior minister has informed the Persian-language media that 60,000 polling stations would be set up for the elections of members of parliament and members of the Assembly of Experts and 300,000 people will be working with the government in this process.
A growing number of social media users in Iran combined with speedy information circulation have Iranian authorities seriously concerned. In addition to monitoring online sources, the security committee will create a “security map” to identify sensitive areas for upcoming elections.
Discussions regarding the implementation of “intelligent” filtering have proliferated Internet policy discussions within Iran. “Intelligent” filtering is a process whereby they filter select content on a social media platform, rather than the entire site. Our recent research covered the extent of this program on Instagram. In response to “intelligent’ filtering discussions, Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, an advisor to the Committee Charged with Determining Criminal Content (CCDOC) told Tabnak news on May 5, “Facebook will definitely not be included in this type of [smart] filtering, and will remain completely blocked.”
Commenting on the policy on May 14, the New York based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran stated,
The continuation of the Facebook ban reflects the profound fear with which Iranian officials view social media networks, which have proved enormously popular in Iran, particularly among the younger generation.
Previous Iranian discussions of “intelligent” filtering on social networks never breached how the government would implement this program on networks that use HTTPS protocol, such as Facebook. The only known implementation of this program has been through the unencrypted Instagram API.
For further information on this announcement see the International Campaign for Human Right's recent report: “Iranian Officials Re-Affirm Facebook Will Remain Completely Blocked in Iran.” For technical understanding of “intelligent” filtering, see Frederic Jacob's Instagram testing and analysis on GitHub.
Iran's Minister of ICT Suggests Instagram Will Not Be (Completely) Blocked Until an Alternative Is Found
Iran's leading reformist newspaper, Shargh, ran an article this past Sunday entitled: “The promises of the Minister of ICT to clear the problems of mobile social media.” The focus of Iran's Minister of Information and Communication Technology Mahmoud Vaezi was the filtering status of popular mobile applications, with a particular focus on Instagram.
He told Shargh the following:
اصلا نگران نباشید. تصمیم مشخص ما آن است که فعلا برنامای برای محدودیت فعالیت شبکهای اجتماعی موبایلی نداریم و قطعا زمانی این موضوع را اعلام خواهیم کرد که جایگزیهای مناسبی برای این شبکها در داخل کشور ایجاد شده باشد.
You should not be worried. Our policy is that we will not restrict the activities of any mobile social media, and when we do announce it, it will be when we find an alternative for this network inside the country.
The popularity of mobile applications has led to some directives from institutions outside of the current administration's hands, such as the Judiciary for filtering. Shargh noted:
بعد از چندیبار تذکر از سوی نهادهای بالادستی به وزارت ارتباطات مبنی بر ارائه برنامای جهت نظارت هرچه بیشتر بر محتوای این شبک ها، «فیلترینگ هوشمند» به عنوان اولویت برنامای دولت مطرح شد زیرا واعظی وزیر ارتباطات معتقد است تمام آنچه از طریق این شبکها منتشر مشود، شامل محتوای نامناسب نیست، بلکه نزدیک به 90درصد مطالبی که روی این شب ها قرار مگیرد، جزء محتوای پاک است.
After a few warnings given to government by higher authorities, the ministry decided to use smart filtering, which will be the priority in the government’s program to monitor social networks, because [Minister for ICT] Vaezi believes all the materials published by these networks are not bad. Close to 90% of the materials publicized on these networks are clean materials.
Current smart filtering of Instagram pages means Iran-based mobile users are blocked from viewing selected pages.
Following the publication of this post, one Internet researcher, Amir Rashidi noted the Minister's statement regarding no viable ‘alternatives’ is a political form of appeasement between hardline elements (such as in the judiciary) and those who support more Internet freedom (such as the Rouhani administration). As noted in the Tweet below by researcher Nariman Gharib, Lenzor exists as a local Iranian alternative to Instagram.
@maasalan there is an alternative right now in Iran. Lenzor
— Nariman Gharib (@ListenToUs) April 12, 2015
— Amir Rashidi (@Ammir) April 12, 2015
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif penned a response to the letter 47 Republican U.S. Senators sent to Iranian leaders. The letter was in opposition to nuclear negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Zarif was quick to pen the response, and tweet back to the Republican Senator Tom Cotton who originally tweeted the letter to Zarif, President Hassan Rouhani, and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) March 9, 2015
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) March 10, 2015
Soheil Arabi was sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Mohammad on the Facebook.The Revolutionary Guards arrested Soheil Arabi on November 2013. Iranian Twitter user Velgard tweeted below about this, explaining that Arabi is only a 30 year old Iranian who is not a political activist, but merely “one of us.” Several bloggers and Facebook users were arrested in last twelve months.
— ولگرد (@_velGard) November 26, 2014
Iranians held several protest rallies in different cities including Tehran,Tabriz and Mehabad to support Kobane‘s people on Tuesday.Fighting continues to rage in the Syria-Turkey border town of Kobane
— Negar Mortazavi (@NegarMortazavi) October 7, 2014
Iran held the first annual Persian ICT week conference in Tehran's Ijlas center between August 30-31, 2014. The two day conference was a cooperative effort between Iran's ICT Guild Organization and the Arab ICT Organization. The theme of the conference was entitled, “Internet for Economic Growth,” and panels were held over the two days discussing youth using social media, the ICT industry post-sanctions in Iran, and the role of government in Internet development.
Many users followed the event on both Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #PersianICTWeek in English, and #هفته_فناوری_اطلاعات_و_ارتباطات_پارسیزبانان in Persian. Government representatives from many countries including Malaysia, Qatar and Lebanon were present at the event.
In a meeting that followed the event, Iran's Minister of ICT Mahmoud Vaezi and his Qatari counterpart Khatem Hesam Jabar, met to discuss cooperation between the two governments in developing both nation's ICT industry. According to Iran's semi-official Fars news agency, the minister wished to share with Qatar the merits of Iran's new national information network, a project that endeavours to create a countrywide network of websites assigned to domestic IP addresses, separate from the worldwide web. Many Iranian figures have suggested this will aid in the development of domestic ICT infrastructure and economy. Vaezi stated achievements were made in electronic banking, cyber security and information technology, and explained the network was one of the best ways forward in the new youth dominated Internet culture.
A large portion of the conference was focused on how Iranian youth were engaging in entrepreneurship within Iran's ICT sector, and the government's support of knowledge based industries amongst this new generation. This event preceded President Hassan Rouhani's September 1 televised speech, declaring the importance of the Internet for Iran's youth.
What better than the seventh art to mobilize? In another effort to push for Elections in Lebanon and prevent an extension of the Parliamentary term #NoToExtension, Lebanese NGO Nahwa Al Muwatiniya (meaning Towards Citizenship) held an “Election Film Week”.
Six works from Chile, Iran, China, Ghana and the US, varying between documentaries and fiction are being screened between August 28 to September 2 at Cinema Metropolis (a theater promoting indie movies) in collaboration with the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE).
On the Facebook Page of the event, where the programme is listed, the organisers note:
We have been struggling with a fragile democracy in Lebanon, ever since its independence. Today, more than in the darkest days of the civil war, the foundations of our democracy are at risk. But we’re not alone in this. The world is full of stories about the human struggle for self-determination and democratic participation. Broadening our perspective serves our effort to improve the quality of the political system in Lebanon.
The films we picked share stories from different countries, all which portray the election process. Collectively, they reveal a combination of human values and ideals and the efforts politicians make to win an election.
To see a glimpse of the movies, check out the trailer posted on Nahwa Al Muwatiniya Youtube Page.
The current parliament extended its four-year stay for the first time in May 2013. And like a year before, various parties are supporting the move this time around under the pretext of security conditions.
The end of the parliamentary term comes amidst a period of turmoil in Lebanon. The country has lacked a president since May 25 after parliament failed to elect a new head of state and top officials could not reach political consensus. A general strike by syndicates demanding to approve a new enhanced wage scale for civil servants has threatened to paralyze the entire country. Lebanon has experience instability on both Syrian and Israeli borders after soldiers were kidnapped by members of Islamic militant organization ISIS.