Stories from Quick Reads and Iran
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:
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