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Iran Looks To China For Development Of Intranet

Illustration of Map of Iran in a cybernetic internet style background.

The head of the Council and Internal Affairs Commission of the Iranian Parliament, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, says that launching an Iranian national intranet is included in the new partnership being planned between Iran and China.

Speaking to the pro-reform website Entekhab (Choice), Jokar said on Tuesday, September 1 that Tehran had welcomed the cooperation of countries such as China and Russia in its internet development, and that the proposed document detailing Iran and China's potential partnership contains details about Iran's national intranet under the title of "cooperation between Iran and China for development of cyberspace."

The draft of the Iran-China cooperation document, which the Iranian cabinet approved on June 21, is a controversial proposal that has been strongly criticized by some critics of President Hassan Rouhani's government as well as opponents of the Iranian regime, though China has so far avoided any reference to the existence of the document.

If the partnership is established, China will offer for the first time its assistance in establishing an intranet in Iran, with the Iranian government trying for years to implement a "national network" separate from the global Internet, allegedly for security reasons.

The Research Center of the Islamic Consultative Assembly last May estimated that about 190 trillion rials (approximately $4.5 billion) had previously been spent on creating a national Internet in Iran.

In the meantime, Jokar defended the newly-elected Majlis parliament representatives' motion to "nationalize the Internet," citing the fact that social media servers are located in "the United States or Canada." He also referred to Turkey's history of restricting social networks, saying, "Social networks must respect the Islamic protocols and laws, as they do in Turkey."

Forty members of the Iranian parliament have presented a double-urgency parliamentary motion entitled "Organizing Social Media," which is currently in line for a public debate on the Majlis floor. The proposed parliamentary motion would require "all domestic and foreign messaging apps" to fall in accordance with Iranian law. The use of filter breakers is currently considered a crime and is punishable by fines and imprisonment.

The Iranian government, which notoriously shut down Internet access in the country during the November 2019 anti-regime protests, has been named by international institutions as one of the world's most egregious practitioners of cyberspace suppression.

A report released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on March 11, 2020, named Iran's Supreme Council of Cyberspace (ISCC) as a leader of cyberspace suppression within the country. Established by Khamenei, ISCC controls cyberspace policy in Iran, uses various methods to control the Internet by filtering news websites and applications such as Telegram, Signal, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter.

The Islamic Government has so far not commented on Jokar's revelation.