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Tehran Prosecutor: Streaming TinyMoviez Website Shut Down For “Indecent” Content

CHRI - Case Highlights State Sanctioning of Copyright Infringement in Iran

The popular Iranian streaming movies website, TinyMoviez, which featured pirated material, was shut down for distributing "indecent" foreign films, announced Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi on October 10, 2017.

Iranian Officials Increase Pressure on Telegram App to Comply With Censorship Policies

TheCHRI - Iranian Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi has vowed to block "anti-revolutionary channels" on the Telegram messaging application after the popular Amad News channel reported that a state official's daughter was arrested for spying.


"We are seriously seeking to derail channels that oppose the state," said Jahromi, a former intelligence official, on October 8, 2017.

Iranian officials often threaten to block access to Telegram channels that are critical of the state or contain allegedly "immoral" material. However, that would technically require cooperation from Telegram, which has so far only complied with requests involving violations of the company's terms of use, including posts containing extreme violence and pornographic content.

8 Oct

MJ Azari Jahromi @azarijahromi

@durov: We support free flow of information but condem spreading hate and false information in cyberspace

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Pavel Durov

✔@durov

The rules of @telegram prohibit calls for violence and hate speech. We rely on our users to report public content that violates this rule.

6:18 PM - Oct 8, 2017

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Complying with the Iranian authorities' censorship policies would be a serious violation of freedom of expression by Telegram, and could result in the migration of a significant number of its reported 40 million Iranian users.

On October 9, Tehran Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, stated that the Islamic Republic was determined to shut down Amad News "for conducting anti-revolutionary activities through Telegram."

An independent news channel based outside of Iran with more than 640,000 followers, Amad News is one of the most popular Iranian-content channels on Telegram. Under the motto of "Awareness, Struggle, Democracy," the channel frequently publishes reports critical of Iranian state policies.

On October 3, Amad News published a report claiming that Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani's daughter, Zahra Larijani, had been arrested on suspicion of spying for the UK.

Larijani denied the report the next day.

"The recent rumors about me and my family are not worthy of a response," he said in a speech at the University of Judicial Sciences and Administrative Services in Tehran on October 4. "These attacks on the judiciary are retaliation for punishing those behind the 2009 sedition."

Iranian officials refer to the peaceful mass protests against the disputed result of the 2009 presidential election, which came to be known as the Green Movement, as the "sedition."

Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi stated in an interview with the Iranian state broadcasting organization, abbreviated as IRIB, on October 4 that his agency "has not seen any signs that would lead to suspicions of spying by any member the Larijani family."

Iranian officials often threaten to block access to Telegram channels that are critical of the state or contain allegedly "immoral" material. However, that would technically require cooperation from Telegram, which has so far only complied with requests involving violations of the company's terms of use, including posts containing extreme violence and pornographic content.

On September 26, 2017, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced that a lawsuit had been filed in an Iranian court against Telegram CEO Pavel Durov, claiming that the app is servicing terrorists and spreading immoral content in Iran.

In a tweet to Durov on October 8, Telecommunication Minister Jahromi wrote, "We support the free flow of information, but we condemn the publication of hate and false information in cyberspace."

The internet and social media apps are heavily restricted and censored in Iran, with hardliners in the government viewing any form of internet freedom as a threat to the Islamic Republic.

Numerous sites, including independent news outlets, have been filtered by Iran's state censors and dozens of journalists and social media activists have been punished with long prison terms for posting their views online.

According to a report published in September 2017 by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), an internet censorship monitoring organization, 121 of the 886 sites blocked by the state between September 2014-17 were news-related.

Iranian print and broadcast media outlets are also forced to comply with strict censorship rules, including bans on prominent former presidents, or risk arrest and imprisonment.

In July 2017, outgoing Telecommunications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi revealed that he had come under pressure by Iran's main internet censorship body, the Taskforce to Determine Instances of Criminal Content, to shut down social media channels that supported rival candidates during the presidential election in May.

"We are in contact with officials at Telegram, but they refuse to shut down political channels," he said. "For instance we, like you, would like to see Amad News shut down. They criticize the Telecommunications Ministry the most."

Reformist activist and former political prisoner Mostafa Tajzadeh has mocked state officials for trying to shut down Telegram.

"With an annual budget of more that a billion dollars, IRIB has 40 channels broadcasting 24 hours a day and yet it has been defeated by a Telegram channel with more than 600,000 members," he wrote on his Telegram channel on October 9.

In January 2016, Asadollah Dehnad, the acting director of the Telecommunications Company of Iran, stated that the average Iranian spends more than two hours a day on Telegram. "That means many times more than watching [state] television," he said.

Gorgan Appeals Court Issues Prison Sentences, Fines for Facebook Posts

CHRI - Two residents of the Iranian city of Gorgan have been sentenced to prison and another fined for the content of their personal social media postings.


The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned that Roozbeh Gilasian was sentenced to a year in prison and Nima Saffar to 80 days in prison while Elaheh Soroushnia was fined eight million tomans ($2,412 USD) by the Appeals Court in Gorgan Province in September 2017.

"They didn't do anything other than post their views on Facebook and have friendly get-togethers, but apparently in Iran that's enough to be charged with spreading lies and acting against national security and being sent to jail," a source with knowledge about the cases told CHRI.

The charges the three were convicted of include "spreading falsehoods" on social media and "acting against national security," according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The preliminary court had previously given them much harsher sentences," said the source. "Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Gorgan had sentenced Gilasian to five years in prison, Soroushnia to one year in prison and Saffar to two years in prison."

Gilasian was also issued a suspended six-month prison sentence in a separate case, again for the charge of "spreading falsehoods," added the source.

Gilasian has authored books on philosophy without publication permits from Iran's Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry. The books, which were published electronically, are available online, including Falsafeh dar Khiaban (Street Philosophy) and Jozveh Enghelab (The Revolution File).

Soroushnia and Saffar have published poetry online.

The three were arrested between October and November 2015 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Intelligence Organization and interrogated for a month while in solitary confinement at the Amirabad Prison in Gorgan before being released on bail.

Iranian writers are subjected to censorship policies and arbitrary arrests for peacefully engaging in their profession. In 2015, poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Moosavi were issued sentences of nine and eleven years in prison respectively and 99 lashes each.

Poet Hila Sedighi, who was arrested in January 2016, said she was watched throughout her detention "as if they were watching a murderer."

Iran’s Judiciary Sues Telegram CEO to Adopt Censorship Policies

CHRI - A lawsuit has been filed in an Iranian court against the CEO of the Telegram messaging app, Pavel Durov, accusing the app of servicing terrorists and spreading immorality, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced on September 26, 2017.


"This network, which operates under Western laws, cannot stop us from investigating this suit," said Dowlatabadi, according to the judiciary's official news agency, Mizan.

"According to the suit, the Telegram network provides services to terrorist groups such as Daesh [ISIS] as well as other criminal organizations and promotes and facilitates child pornography, human trafficking and drug use," added Dowlatabadi.

The Tehran prosecutor said the case was being investigated by the international division of his office, but did not reveal who or what organization filed the suit.

Reacting to the news, Durov said on Twitter on September 26, "I am surprised to hear that. We are actively blocking terrorist and pornographic content in Iran. I think the real reasons are different."

"Just checked with our team of moderators: they are blocking over >1,000 channels/bots/chats with porn/terrorist content in Iran every day," he tweeted.

The internet and social media apps are heavily restricted and censored in Iran, with hardliners in the government viewing any form of internet freedom as a threat to the Islamic Republic.

The suit follows years of efforts by conservative Iranian officials aimed at blocking nationwide access to Telegram, which has frustrated attempts by state agencies to censor and control content on the network.

The app, which Telegram claims is used by more than 40 million people in Iran, offers a private messaging service and private and public "channels" that operate similar to Facebook pages.

On August 7, 2017, the country's Supreme Cyberspace Council (SCC) ruled that all foreign social media networks must store domestic traffic data inside Iran, a move intended to pressure companies that wish to maintain a presence in Iran to aid state surveillance efforts or face being blocked.

According to Article 2 of the SCC's ruling, foreign messaging networks must store their Iranian data inside Iran and have a representative based inside the country in order to operate there.

"The operational conditions of the messaging services will be prepared and compiled under Telecommunications Ministry guidelines by a working group comprised of representatives from the ministries of telecommunications, culture and Islamic guidance, and intelligence, as well as the president's office, the prosecutor general's office, the Islamic Propagation Organization, the cyber police force, and the Islamic Revolution's Guard Corps," said the SCC ruling.

On July 26, 2017, Deputy Prosecutor General Abdolsamad Khorramabadi threatened to take then Telecommunications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi to court for his alleged refusal to block "about 8,000" channels on Telegram.

The minister was appointed in 2013 by President Hassan Rouhani, who—mostly blocked from appearing in conservative-dominated state media—has relied heavily on Telegram to reach the electorate during his presidential campaigns.

"For reasons known to the telecommunications minister, we have so far been lenient in our response to the ministry's failure in carrying out judicial orders," said Khorramabadi.

"From now on, if the minister does not carry out the orders, we will definitely file criminal charges against him after receiving permission from the prosecutor general and senior judicial officials," he added.

"He thinks everything should be blocked," said Vaezi about Khorramabadi in a meeting with a group of conservative members of Iran's Parliament on July 15, 2017. "But based on what Iran and the world has learned from experience, we believe that shutting down more sites will reduce opportunities and push people to use filter breakers."

Vaezi, who was appointed as Rouhani's chief of staff in 2017, was reacting to claims by the deputy prosecutor general that the Telecommunications Ministry's attempts to gain Telegram's cooperation in blocking "criminal content" had resulted in "almost nothing."

Khorramabadi added: "Just as we did not allow Turkcell to operate phone lines in Iran, I believe foreign social media networks should not be allowed to host information exchanged between the people of our country."

"Internet communication is much more sensitive and important that phone communication," he said.

In May 2014, a judge in Fars Province summoned American Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to appear in an Iranian court as part of a case against social media networks brought by unidentified citizens allegedly complaining of breaches of privacy.

Facebook is banned in Iran and there is no extradition treaty between Iran and the United States. No ruling was ever made or announced in the case.

Reports: Iran Charges Telegram Management Over Extremism, Pornography Allegations

Reports: Iran Charges Telegram Management Over Extremism, Pornography AllegationsRFL/RE - Iranian news agencies say Tehran's prosecutor has filed criminal charges against the "management" of Telegram, the popular encrypted messaging app founded by Russian social-networking mogul Pavel Durov.

Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said that the charges stemmed from Telegram's alleged role as a platform for child pornography and extremist content, including by Islamic State militants.

The reports on September 26 by the semiofficial ISNA news agency and the judiciary's Mizan news agency did not name specific individuals implicated in the case.

Telegram, which Durov launched in 2013, is used by many Iranians for messaging as well as for exchanging news and information. Durov said in April that there were an estimated 40 million active users in Iran.

Iranian media outlets and many of the country's politicians maintain their own channels on Telegram, which has previously clashed with Iranian authorities.

Durov said on September 26 that he was surprised to learn of the reported charges and that he believes the "real reasons are different" than child pornography and extremism.

"We are actively blocking terrorist and pornographic content in Iran," Durov said on Twitter:

23h

NIKI MAHJOUB

✔@nikimahjoub

@durov
Tehran prosecutor has brought charges against you like providing services for terrorists, any reaction?

Follow

Pavel Durov

✔@durov

I am surprised to hear that. We are actively blocking terrorist and pornographic content in Iran. I think the real reasons are different.

3:08 PM - Sep 26, 2017 · Finland

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Iran has some of the world's toughest online censorship regulations, with tens of thousands of websites, including social media and news sites, filtered over content deemed sensitive or immoral.

ISNA cited Dolatabadi as saying that "Western law" did not apply in the Telegram case and that the matter had been handed to the international affairs department of the Tehran prosecutor's office.

It was not immediately clear whether Iran might seek to prosecute Durov.

The enigmatic founder of the popular Russian social-networking site VKontakte left Russia several years ago.

In March, Iranian authorities arrested 12 managers of popular reformist and pro-government Telegram channels -- a move some critics said was a crackdown ahead of the May presidential election.

Those arrests were criticized by President Hassan Rohani, who won a second term in office.

With reporting by ISNA, Mizan, AP, AFP, and Bloomberg

    Wife of Man Imprisoned for Facebook Posts Loses Job After Pressure From IRGC

    CHRI - Every day something bad is happening to him."

    Nastaran Naimi, the wife of Soheil Arabi, who was imprisoned in Iran for his Facebook posts, was fired after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) pressured her employer, according to Arabi.

    Iran’s IRGC Brings “Revenge” Charges Against Man Imprisoned for Facebook Posts and His Wife

    CHRI - An Iranian man imprisoned for his social media postings could face several more years behind bars if he is convicted of new charges brought against him by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). His wife may also be imprisoned.

    Pro-Rouhani and Reformist Social Media Admins Sentenced to Prison in Iran

    CHRI - Six administrators of Iranian reformist political channels on the Telegram messaging network have been sentenced to terms ranging from two to five years in prison.

    Iran Reported To Be Negotiating With Twitter To Unblock Popular Website

    Iran Reported To Be Negotiating With Twitter To Unblock Popular WebsiteRFL/RE - Iran's new communications minister has said that negotiations are under way to stop blocking Twitter, which has been banned for years despite being used by the country's top leaders.


    The microblogging platform was barred in 2009 after mass protests broke out against the reelection of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

    Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi told the state-owned Iran daily newspaper on August 22 that Twitter was ready to "negotiate to resolve problems."

    "Twitter is not an immoral environment needing to be blocked," Jahromi, 36, was quoted as saying.

    Jahromi, Iran's youngest-ever minister and the first to be born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has been a critic of online censorship in Iran. Platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter remain officially banned even as millions use them daily through easily obtained software.

    Iran's Supreme Council of Cyberspace, which is headed by President Hassan Rohani and overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is in charge of blocking websites.

    Even so, Rohani and Khamenei both have Twitter accounts administered on their behalf.

    Jahromi told the newspaper that officials were also looking at ways to unblock YouTube while still censoring "immoral content." He said a pilot project would allow universities to access the site.

    Based on reporting by AP and AFP

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