Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has included Iran's Cyberspace Supreme Council among the twenty worst digital predators in 2020 in a list published to mark this year's World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, celebrated on 12 March.
RSF asserts that the Iranian Cyberspace Supreme Council uses digital technology to "spy on and harass" journalists and thereby "jeopardize people's ability to get news and information."
Based on RSF's report, the Iranian Cyberspace Supreme Council uses "online selective access and control," and blocks news websites, platforms, and apps such as Telegram, Signal, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter to enforce state censorship.
Created in 2012 and consisting of senior military and political figures, "the Iranian Cyberspace Supreme Council is constructing a firewall using Internet filtering techniques," the media watchdog said.
Internet shutdowns in the clergy-dominated Iran "are increasingly used to contain and suppress waves of street protests, and to restrict the transmission and circulation of independent information regarded as 'counter-revolutionary' or 'subversive' in nature," RSF noted.
Iranian Cyberspace Supreme Council, presided by the incumbent President of the Islamic Republic, consists of the key Ministers, Chief Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Police Chief, the head of the Islamic Propagation Organization, the head of the state-run Radio and TV networks (IRIB), the chairman of parliament's Cultural Committee, and seven others, all directly appointed by the "Supreme Leader'" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
This is for the first time that RSF is publishing a list of digital entities whose "activities are tantamount to preying on journalism."
The list includes government agencies and companies that use digital technology to spy on and harass journalists and thereby jeopardize free access to news and information.
The list, which RSF says is not "exhaustive," covers private-sector companies specializing in targeted cyberespionage that are based in Western countries such as the United States and Britain.
RSF insists that these 20 Digital Predators of Press Freedom represent a clear danger for freedom of opinion and expression, which is guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"The authoritarian strongmen behind predatory activity against press freedom are extending their tentacles into the digital world with the help of armies of accomplices, subordinates, and henchmen who are organized and determined digital predators," RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement.
"These accomplices sometimes act from or within democratic countries," Deloire said, adding that "opposition to despotic regimes also means ensuring that the weapons for suppressing journalism are not delivered to them from abroad."