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Who gets to use messaging apps in Iran?
September 17, 2020

An Iranian woman looks at her mobile phone outside a shopping mall in Tehran in 2019. (© Vahid Salemi/AP Images)

Iranian lawmakers have proposed banning all foreign-owned social messaging apps and replacing them with domestic versions run by the regime.

Dozens of lawmakers have signed the August 24 proposal to create a committee to license and monitor domestic social networking sites and impose punishments of up to two years in prison for violating the new rules, Radio Farda reports.

But as Iran’s regime moves to further restrict everyday Iranians’ access to the internet, many senior regime officials still freely use U.S.-based social media technologies to spout propaganda.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has several foreign language accounts on Twitter. He posted numerous tweets on September 1 bashing a peace deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel as a “betrayal” of Arab nations that “won’t last long.” Since then, Bahrain has also joined the UAE in normalizing ties with Israel.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also have active Twitter accounts. But the regime already blocks everyday Iranians’ access to Twitter, as well as Facebook and YouTube.

The move to further restrict internet access comes after the regime blacked out the internet to mask its violent crackdown on nationwide protests in November. Regime forces killed about 1,500 people and rights groups say the regime tortured protesters after the demonstrations.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, second from right, meets with Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, second from left, at an exhibition at the ministry in Tehran in 2019. (© Presidency of Iran/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Iranian regime’s security and intelligence agencies apply filters to disrupt internet connections or restrict access. Telegram, the most popular messaging app in the country, is often censored, according to Radio Farda.

Since 2005, Iran’s leaders have spent at least $4.5 billion to build a domestic intranet that would block data requests from going outside the country and allow the government to censor content. Regime officials recently announced a deal with China to build the national intranet.

The proposal in Iran’s parliament, called “Organizing Social Media Messaging,” would establish a committee to license and monitor messaging apps. The committee of regime entities would include a representative of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that answers directly to Khamenei.

The plan would require that an Iranian citizen own at least 50 percent of any domestic app, which must be hosted in Iran and comply with the nation’s laws. Individuals or entities that produce a messaging app outside the law or distribute virtual private networks would be in violation.

The U.S. government supports the right of the Iranian people to the free flow of information through its policies, such as the U.S. Treasury Department’s General License D1, which facilitates the use of personal communications services in Iran.