Persian cyberspace report: internet blackouts across Iran; BBC journalists interrogated, family members imprisoned
News in brief:
- Last weekend anti-war protests organised by the Iranian diaspora took place in cities across North America. They warned about the consequences such a war would have for people inside Iran
- Iran’s Press Supervisory Board has revoked the publishing licence for Aiin Goftogoo, a magazine managed by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, and forced them to close
- The manager of currency exchange website Mesghal has been arrested in Iran. He has been accused of reporting misinformation and of being the main cause of the fluctuating exchange rate
From internet to intranet: internet blackouts across Iran
On 7 February a number of Iranian internet users reported that all non-Iranian websites had been censored. Twitter user ‘Omiddd’ said, “All websites with servers outside Iran have been blocked; maybe they are testing the National Internet”. ‘Amin Sabeti’ tweeted, “[It’s been] Around half an hour [that] all of websites are blocked in #Iran, from supreme leader's website to IT blogs!”
‘Jenabali’ joked, “I heard that Amoo Filterbaf [“Uncle Filterweaver”; the nickname of Iran’s internet filtering council] has blocked the whole of the internet for a few minutes just to increase the Peyvandha’s traffic so it can compete with the traffic of Facebook and Twitter websites.” Established in 2010, Peyvandha is a website that Iran’s internet users get redirected to when they try to view a banned site. Payvandha comprises a series of recommended and official links to pages with servers based inside Iran.
It seems the Iranian government is increasing its censorship of the internet in order to stop the spread of the call to protest being made by the opposition, who wish to draw Iranians into the street on the first anniversary of the house arrest of lead opposition candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
On 9 February internet censorship was stepped up and many Iranian users reported that all Google services had been blocked in Iran. FriendFeed user, ‘Saeid’ said: “All of Google’s services are down. I’m going to get so behind on my work. Shit!” ‘Mhmazidi’ and ‘Massfly’ said they could only use Google Translate, and that all other Google services were unavailable. “DarkLordHippo” tweeted: “[They] won’t block Google Translate because they [Iranian authorities] still need to translate slogan for the 22nd of Bahman [Anniversary of Islamic Revolution] slogan.” ‘MamalZZ’ contradicted these reports saying, “All of Google’s services are available for me and I’m translating at the moment.”
‘Vahid9Online’ (5,019 followers) tweeted: “Many Iranian users inside Iran are complaining about the quality of Google’s services. Emails are not opening and [they] are displaying different errors”. ‘Ahadyekta’ tweeted, “Today, I’ve seen all kinds of error messages from Google that even Google’s own employees have never seen before”. ‘ListenToUs’ tweeted an image of the error message Iranian users inside Iran were seeing when they tried to login to Gmail: “PICTURE OF GMAIL HOMEPAGE IN IRAN @google #Filternet Today 9Feb:
‘Arash’ and ‘Babak Mehrabani’ think that Iran has blocked all access to HTTP Secure (HTTPS) and that Iranian users can use trickery to get around the restrictions. Arash said: “To access Google search without needing to use a VPN, [you] can sign out from your [Gmail] account. With this method Google is available”. Babak said: “Those users who have disabled Gmail’s SSL [HTTPS] can use it without any problems.”
According to the reactions from Iran’s internet users in the webosphere today, it seems that Iran has blocked all SSL protocol, and any websites using this protocol are not currently viewable inside Iran. Users inside Iran must use circumvention tools like VPNs or proxies to access these websites.
Online interrogation of a BBC Persian Journalist in London
Over the past week, some of the relatives of BBC Persian’s London-based staff members have been detained and threatened by Iranian intelligence agents. One BBC Persian employee was subjected to an online interrogation in London after a family member in Iran was jailed. The family member’s interrogator forced her to log-in and connect him with the journalist who he subsequently interrogated over Skype.
Iran Green Voice was the first news website to publish the news. Sadegh Saba, the head of BBC Persian, confirmed the news shortly afterwards in an interview with Persian Deutsche Welle Radio. Following the interview with Deutsche Welle BBC Persian covered the news itself on their website and in a TV news bulletin. This very public announcement sent a panic through the Iranian webosphere. Some who had treated the news as a rumour before it was confirmed by the BBC voiced their concerns and the subject quickly became a hot topic on Balatarin.
Social networkers and bloggers expressed concern about the security of journalists outside Iran. They asked for action rather than condemnation. Concerned internet user Nadia posted a comment on BBC Persian’s Facebook page: “Sadegh Saba only knows how to condemn and he does not do anything else. When they [Iran] blocked satellite channels the BBC just condemned them and even now when they are harassing the family members of their journalists they just condemn”.
After this news was circulated a number of Iranian news agencies including Mehr News published reports claiming that many journalists inside Iran have been arrested and accused of working for the BBC. In response to these claims BBC Persian announced that it does not have any journalists or reporters inside Iran. Backy wrote: “Come on BBC, stop lying! If you don’t have any journalists inside Iran, then where are you getting your news from?” A cartoon by Nikahang Kowsar depicts the recent nightmare of journalists inside Iran who have been unfairly accused of working for the BBC.