By Kayhan Life Staff
The Majlis (Iranian Parliament) has passed a draft bill on “Protecting Rights of Internet Users and Regulating Social Media Messaging Apps” and will now debate the bill in an open session before it becomes law.
The move has been criticized by Iranians from all walks of life, including cabinet members and senior officials, as well as by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a non-governmental organization fighting for press freedom.
The Majlis originally had no plans to debate the bill openly, and instead was going to ask its Cultural Committee to review the proposal before sending it to the Guardian Council for a final vote. That would have amounted to a fast-tracking of the bill. Widespread public criticism appears to have forced the Majlis to back down and abandon efforts to fast-track the bill.
Although the measure is supposed to be provisional and tried for a limited time, many people believe that the new law will be permanent if ratified.
Once the bill becomes law, violators could be prosecuted under the Islamic Republic penal code 7, which entails fines and imprisonment. Under the proposed bill, Iranian authorities will filter almost all popular messaging platforms if they cannot file for an operation license and appoint a representative within four months after the bill’s ratification. Also, the Islamic Republic Armed Forces would be in charge of “cyber and digital border security,” and of preventing unlawful input and output of social media content transmitted on the entire internet bandwidth.
The internet has been a target of the Iranian government for the past few years.
Outgoing President Hassan Rouhani and his government shutdown the internet during the nationwide protests in November 2019 — when security forces and antiriot police brutalized protesters and killed several people — and in Sistan and Baluchestan Province in recent months and during the unrest in the southwestern province of Khuzestan in recent weeks.
The draft internet bill was passed by a 121-vote majority in the Majlis on July 28.
“We must point out that deputies only passed a proposal on ‘how to debate’ the bill in the Majlis,” the statement explained. “Some news outlets have mistakenly reported that the Majlis had ‘passed the internet bill.’ The bill will now go to a joint special committee of the Majlis for review. A team of cyberspace and government experts will study the bill in a designated period (for a month or two.).”
“As part of the review process, any decision by the committee will be shared with the public daily,” the statement added. “After the committee has ended its work [within two months], the Majlis will debate the bill in an open session. The bill will then go to the Guardian Council once the deputies have agreed on the time frame for testing the provisional law.”
As it currently stands, the draft bill begins as follows: “The social, political, economic, cultural and security effects of messaging platforms have made it necessary to restructure software by introducing the bill on ‘Protecting Rights of Internet Users and Regulating Social Media Messaging Apps’ to regulate and protect the rights of internet and social media users.”
The Iranian Constitution allows for the power of legislating to be delegated to committees in certain cases.
Article 85 of the Constitution says: “The right of membership is vested with the individual and is not transferable to others. The Assembly [Majlis] cannot delegate the power of legislation to an individual or committee. However, whenever necessary, it can delegate the power of legislating specific laws to its committees under Article 72. The laws will be implemented tentatively for a period specified by the Assembly.”
The committee which reportedly was to review the bill is comprised of 20 senior officials, including Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, the Minister of Information and Communication Technology; Mahmoud Alavi, Minister of Intelligence; Major General Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces; Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali, commander of the Passive Defense Organization; Major General Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps; Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari, commander of the Law Enforcement Forces (NAJA); Abdolali Ali-Asgari, director-general of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), and Hojatoleslam Mohammad Qomi, the head of the Islamic Development Organization.
Criticizing the Iranian draft bill, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) tweeted: “The Islamic Republic Parliament passed the ‘protection bill’ today. Copying China’s censorship methods, the bill restricts access to the global internet and social media. RSF considers the passage of the bill digital discrimination against people’s fundamental rights and condemns the measure.”
Many Iranians on social media also criticized the Majlis for what they saw as the fast-tracking of the bill, using the hashtag #bill-protection (internet shutdown).
Shortly after the Majlis passed the proposal, Nafiseh Azad (@nafise) on July 28 tweeted: “The open session of the Majlis, it officially disqualified itself for reviewing the #bill-protection, which means the esteemed deputies think the internet is only a cultural issue and has nothing to do with the economy, infrastructure, environment, and social matters. Well done!”
Another social media user, @cicikhanoom, tweeted: “The Majlis passed the bill to block the internet.”
Moinuddin Saeedi, Majlis deputy representing Chabahar electoral district, said: “While the Majlis does not hold an informal session to address water shortage in Khuzestan and COVID-19 vaccine, it, unfortunately, passed the ‘protection’ bill under Article 85. It was not a good day for the Majlis.”
The bill on “Protecting Rights of Internet Users and Regulating Social Media Messaging Apps” pertains to cyberspace, including websites and apps. Restricting the internet will have wide-ranging implications. According to government spokesperson Ali Rabiei, blocking Instagram would put one million people out of work.
Most startups and online traders believe it will destroy their businesses if the bill becomes a law.
Despite the Majlis deciding not to fast-track the bill, some senior politicians and social media users have criticized the planned legislation.
“We are chipping away at our country with a cleaver,” warned the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Seyyed Abdollah Salehi, in a tweet.
In a tweet, Mohsen Rezaei, the Secretary of the Expediency Council, asked: “Why was it necessary to pass a bill on protecting the rights of internet users when our society is facing serious economic difficulties?”
A social media user, Mary, tweeted: “As if everything was fine, including water, power and other [problems], and now they want to take away what little freedom we had by [restricting] the internet. What else keeps us here?”
Some sporting personalities have also criticized the bill.
Writing on his Instagram page, Ali Karimi, a former member of the Iranian national football team, asked: “Don’t vaccines, medicine, water, electricity, and air require protection?”
Writing on her Instagram page, Iranian stage and film actor Hanieh Tavassoli said: “Are power cuts, water shortage, unemployment, inflation, sanctions, and vaccines not important? Filter [the internet], so no one finds out about the problems and miseries! Well done for showing intelligence, wisdom, and compassion!”
Saeideh Khashi, a rights activist in the southeast province of Sistan and Baluchestan, said: “The internet is the economic lifeline of many women business owners in Sistan and Baluchestan. It seems you are determined to beat down on these exhausted people. You get pleasure in finding a new way every day to bring misery to Iran.”
Meanwhile, supporters of the bill have suggested that the domestic search engine “Zarebin” could replace Google. There are also talks about replacing messaging platforms Instagram and WhatsApp with the “Rubino” app.
Alireza Zakani, the director of Majlis Research Center on July 29, tweeted: “The global management of the internet is a necessity, especially in Iran. It does not curtail its benefits. Filtering, which is gaining access through a backchannel, shows a lack of understanding of cyberspace. The passage of the bill by the Majlis, under Article 85, starts a dialogue among experts aimed at protecting users’ rights. It is imperative to persuade the public opinion.”