Iran Brief: Cyberspace Council Seeks Further Restrictions on Digital Platforms – June 3, 2016

Official News

UN Statement Condemns Floggings in Iran: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) released a statement condemning the interrogation and sentencing of 35 individuals arrested last week after being caught “dancing and jubilating” at a graduation party. The Prosecutor’s Office sentenced each person to 99 lashes to be carried out within 24 hours of sentencing. The UNHCR noted in its statement that flogging is in violation of the Convention Against Torture and highlighted two flogging incidents earlier this month, wherein 17 mine workers were allegedly flogged for engaging in protests and one woman was publicly flogged for engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage. Sadeghi Niyaraki, the public prosecutor, insisted [Pr] that the 35 men and women should “serve as an example for those who attempt to engage in behaviors that deviate from the norm,” and also lauded the sentence’s quick implementation, saying “thank God that within fewer than 24 hours, the interrogation, investigation, trial, issue and carrying out of the verdict were completed.”

Domestic News

Conservative Re-Elected as Speaker of Parliament: Prominent conservative Ali Larijani was re-elected as speaker of Iran’s Parliament on Tuesday, winning with 237 of the 273 cast ballots. He has held the position since 2008. Larijani is not known as a staunch conservative, as he helped push the nuclear agreement through Parliament last summer and has supported President Hassan Rouhani’s administration. Larijani’s main opponent, reformist candidate Mohammad Reza Aref, who served as first vice president under former president Mohammad Khatami from 2001 to 2005, withdrew from the race on Monday. Reformist Masoud Pezeshkian and moderate conservative Ali Motahhari, the latter of which has vocally criticized Iranian authorities in the past, were elected as deputy heads of Parliament and will serve as First and Second Vice Speaker of the Majlis, respectively.

Cyberspace Council Cracks Down on Digital Platforms: On the orders of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace has clamped down on social media and messaging apps operating in the country. The Council has established a new set of guidelines instructing foreign messaging companies, such as Telegram, to transfer data connected to Iranian citizens into the country, with the aim of setting up servers inside Iran. Telegram is particularly popular in Iran, with about 20 million Iranians using the messaging service because of its encryption capability and high level of security. Messaging app Viber was most popular in Iran until recently, when authorities implemented [Pr] measures to slow the messaging network.

Last year, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov acknowledged pressure from the Iranian government, tweeting, “Iranian officials want to use @telegram to spy on their citizens. We can not and will not help them with that.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has previously criticized Telegram, saying, “Although Telegram has helped open up an important space for conversation in Iran, numerous technology security experts have warned that the app’s security flaws make it unsafe.” One activist said, “If any of [Telegram’s] servers get compromised, all of the users’ data is up in the air.”

Instagram Briefly Suspends Quds General’s Account: Social media platform Instagram briefly shut down an account associated with Iranian Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani after pictures of Soleimani in Fallujah were posted. Soleimani, who is on the U.S.-designated terrorist list, maintains close relations with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir PutinFars News, the semi-official publication of the Iranian government, railed against the suspension, saying, “Instagram, Twitter, and other tech companies claim that they have long policed their content for signs of extremism, but thousands of terrorist and extremist groups are operating on these social media networks.” It claimed that Instagram “decided to close the page linked to the General Soleimani, who is the leader and top commander of [the] campaign against terrorist and extremist outfits in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the region.”

Foreign Affairs

Allegations Grow of Coordination between Iran and Taliban: Reports have emerged alleging that Iran and the Taliban are working together to fight the Islamic State (IS). Recent reports suggest that, faced with the threat from the Islamic State, Tehran has determined the Taliban to be less of a threat and is working with the group to secure its 572-mile border with Afghanistan.

The European Union’s special representative to Afghanistan, Ambassador Franz-Michael Mellbinunderscored that “Iranians are already trying to secure their immediate borders towards Afghanistan against [IS] penetration by working together with various groups — warlords [and] Taliban — along their own borders to create a buffer zone.” The move to coordinate with the Taliban, Mellbin further notes, stems from Iran’s long-time rivalry with Saudi Arabia, as it is most likely interpreting “any move by [the group] as a front for forward-leaning aggressive behavior by Saudi Arabia.” Western officials have also suggested that Iran is providing the Taliban with material support in the form of weapons and funding.

Recently, Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was reported to have crossed the Iranian border – where his family lives – before being killed by a U.S. drone strike last month. A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry responded [Pr] by denying the allegation and saying [Pr], without specific reference to Mansour, that “no such person entered Pakistan through Iran’s border at the noted dates” and that Iran “welcomes any step toward establishing peace and security in Afghanistan.”


Zarif Tours Europe to Drum Up Economic Interest: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini in a meeting organized by both nations’ chambers of commerce. The two officials discussed burgeoning economic relations between Iran and Finland and expressed interest in expanding bilateral cooperation. Zarif noted[Pr] optimism about the growing relations, saying that the “presence of Iranian economic delegation on this trip is promising for future relations.” Zarif further shared [Pr] his hope that the two countries could cooperate in a number of fields, including communications. The visit to Finland is one of several European visits Zarif is making to encourage business with the West in light of the easing of sanctions. The head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Mohsen Jalalpour, announced that to date, $1.2 billion worth of economic cooperation documents have been signed. Zarif will conclude his European tour by making stops in Sweden and Lithuania.


Credit: Walt Handelsman