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Iran Lawmakers Aim To Fully Ban All 'Foreign' Messaging Apps


An Iranian man shows his phone while unable to load a social media page as internet service disrupted during anti-regime protests, November 17, 2019.

Dozens of lawmakers in Iran have signed a motion to replace foreign messaging apps with domestically produced ones. The proposal titled as the motion for "Organizing Social Media Messaging," was presented to the parliament's presidium on Monday, August 24.

Signed by forty MPs, the motion has set fines and prison sentences for anyone who offers social media messaging apps without an official license or reproduces and distributes VPNs and other internet circumvention tools.

Iran heavily censors the internet and has long blocked Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, while many officials use banned messaging apps. Instagram is the only major foreign social media platform still untouched by the government.

Based on the motion, whoever violates the proposed law will face a “six degree” imprisonment or fine. According to the Islamic penal code, a six-degree punishment includes more than six months and up to two years in jail, and a twenty million to eighty million rials (about $475 to $1900) fine.

Meanwhile, the motion proposes the formation of a "Central Entity" named the "Organizing Committee," assigned to issue licenses for messaging apps, monitor and supervise their performance, and investigate the relevant complaints.

The Committee consists of the head of the Cyberspace Center, a representative of the ministries of Intelligence, Culture and Islamic Guidance, Communication, the Attorney General's Office, the Cultural Commission, the monopolized state-run Radio and Television, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' (IRGC) Intelligence Organization, the Islamic Propagation Organization, the police, and the Passive Defense Organization.

Defining the term "domestic messaging app," the motion stipulates that more than 50% of its shares must belong to an Iranian citizen, it must be hosted only in the country, and its activity must be within the framework of the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Hardliners in Iran have always demanded full control over cyberspace where people can express anti-regime sentiments and organize during protests.

The Internet in the clergy-dominated Iran has always been struggling with disruptions and restrictions mainly related to the severe filtering by a plethora of security and communication institutions in the Islamic Republic. Even the most popular messaging app in Iran, Telegram, is also filtered, and people have no access to it without using a circumvention tool.

Commemorating the World Cyber Censorship Day last March, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) named the Islamic Republic's Supreme Council of Cyberspace as one of twenty governmental and non-governmental entities with the worst record in suppressing social media activities.

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