Pop quiz: As an internet user, what is the world’s worst country to live in? China with its Great Firewall comes to mind. Or perhaps Cuba, a country that until the end of Fidel Castro’s reign in 2008 outlawed laptop computers and mobile phones. But it is in fact the Islamic Republic of Iran — a country that is the biggest hellhole of internet censorship on the planet.
How bad can it be? Well, in the wake of protests following the disputed presidential election on June 12, 2009, Iranian authorities declared all-out war on internet freedom. Intimidation tactics were employed and to date authorities have arrested more than 50 bloggers that posted “offensive” opinions online, thereby violating newly created laws such as the Computer Crime Law.
If you were one of these unlucky bloggers, you faced torture, solitary confinement and even death. One blogger, Omidreza Mirsayafi, died in police custody and as a result, many bloggers and activists fled Iran and sought asylum in neighboring countries. This extreme form of suppression goes far beyond conventional methods such as electronic filtering and censorship enforced by even the biggest oppressors of internet freedom.
The latest news that Iran is planning on building their own Islamic internet is the final pie in the face for Iranian internet users. According to the head of economic affairs with the Iranian presidency Ali Aqamohammadi: “Iran will soon create an internet that conforms to Islamic principles, to improve its communication and trade links with the world.”
Aqamohammadi explained that Iran’s new network will operate in parallel with the World Wide Web, replacing it in most Muslim countries in the region. Yes, you read that right: Iran will eventually be disconnected from the World Wide Web to run on what is essentially a government-controlled LAN.
Not surprisingly, the Washington-based Iranian group the National Iranian American Council, slammed the idea by calling it what it is: “Repressive”.
Research director at the National Iranian American Council, Reza Marashi, said Iranian authorities have been working on this proposal for at least two years saying: “This is what repressive governments do, they try to withhold information from their people, it’s very black and white — you either support internet freedom or you don’t. If you restrict access on the internet, you’re not on the right side of the issue.”
Marashi said he believes the proposal will be difficult to implement.
“You have to give people a choice at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
Iran is no doubt the undisputed king of internet censorship, but there are certainly a few worthy contenders.
See part 2: The worst internet countries on Earth.