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As Parliament Reviews Ministers, One Nominee Is Accused Of Ties With Intelligence Ministry


The nominee for ministry of Communication in Rouhani's cabinet, Mohammadjavad Azari Jahromi. undated.

Open sessions at the Iranian Parliament for weighing the credentials of President Hassan Rouhani’s proposed ministers resumed on the morning of August 16.

During the first sessions the day before, MPs took the podium to speak for or against Mohammad Bathayee and Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, the nominees for the Education Ministry and the Communication and Information Technology Ministry, respectively.

If any of the proposed ministers fails to win a vote of confidence, Rouhani will have up to three months to name a replacement.

Jahromi, who is the youngest nominee for Rouhani’s second-term cabinet, has mostly faced criticism due to lawmakers’ objection to his handling of Telegram as Rouhani’s admin for the popular messaging service, according to the semiofficial news agency Mehr.

Some MPs were also critical of the poor quality of Internet connections despite high costs, as well as Jahromi’s previous position at the Intelligence Ministry.

Jahromi was a deputy to outgoing ICT Minister Mahmoud Vaezi and CEO of the Telecommunication Infrastructure Company.

In his defense, Jahromi noted his efforts for the National Information Network and talked about his plans for a digital economy, developing cyberspace, and improving infrastructure.

Meanwhile, he was also a target of harsh criticism outside the parliament.

“From 2009 onward, people have been so scared of monitoring that they turn off their cell phones or take out their batteries before talking to each other,” CHRI cited a civil rights activist as saying.

The Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has accused Jahromi of interrogating several former political prisoners as well as monitoring and eavesdropping for intelligence purposes.

“Jahromi was an Intelligence Ministry director in charge of surveillance under President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s second administration [2009-13],” said a source, who spoke to CHRI on the condition of anonymity. “This has caused a lot of concern that he could replace key experts with security officials.”

According to CHRI, the possibility of the ministry being controlled by someone who led surveillance operations during Ahmadinejad’s second term, which began with the mass arrests and imprisonment of activists who had peacefully disputed his election, has raised concerns among Iranian Internet freedom advocates.

“From 2009 onward, people have been so scared of monitoring that they turn off their cell phones or take out their batteries before talking to each other,” CHRI cited a civil rights activist as saying.

Furthermore, CHRI has mentioned other methods of surveillance and monitoring for controlling those insiders and officials who are outspoken critics of the conservative and extreme right policies.

Iranian MP, Ali Motahari, April 25, 2016.
Iranian MP, Ali Motahari, April 25, 2016.

Four years ago, in a letter addressed to Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Tehran MP Ali Motahari declared he had found hidden surveillance and monitoring appliances installed in his office.

“This is absolutely illegal,” Motahari lamented in his letter.

Nevertheless, nobody claimed responsibility, and Motahari’s complaint fell on deaf ears.

Yesterday, a former MP, Elias Naderan, derided Rouhani on his Twitter account by saying, “Are you going to create a free cyberspace by putting someone at the helm of telecommunications who has been deputy technical manager of the Intelligence Ministry?”

In retaliation, Jahromi fired back by tweeting, “There is no General Directorate for monitoring and surveillance in the Intelligence Ministry’s structure. Moreover, technical office of the ministry has got nothing to do with political affairs.”

However, CHRI said, “At least for the time being, Jahromi, 36, has said he is in favor of improving access to the Internet. In a post on his Instagram page on August 1, he broke the news that he had mediated the unblocking of two major websites to be accessed solely by Iranian university students.

“After gaining the approval of the Prosecutor-General, we have received a letter to remove the filter on YouTube and BlogSpot in the country’s universities,” Jahromi wrote.

“We will work on expediting the implementation of this decision,” he added.

However, while Rouhani called for less governmental control over the Internet, which is heavily restricted and censored in Iran, he also allowed the development of projects designed to monitor cyberspace and suppress dissent online, CHRI said.

Access will be granted via user authentication; meaning only university ID-holders will be able to access the websites, CHRI said.

Meanwhile, according to opposition news website Kaleme, Jahromi was hired by the security division of the Intelligence Ministry in 2002 and appointed in 2009 to head Ahmadinejad administration’s expanding online surveillance operations to monitor and suppress online activity deemed objectionable by the state.

During his re-election campaign this year, Rouhani boasted about resisting attempts by conservatives to limit freedom of access to information and expression on the Internet.

“For three and a half years, the government resisted pressure to shut down social media,” said Rouhani at a campaign rally in Tehran on May 13. “The time has passed when only the state radio and television organization could dominate the people’s minds.”

“If everyone today has access to information about the world, it is because of my government’s access,” he said at another rally in Tehran a day later. “As you know, some wanted to ban social media networks, but I stood against them.”

However, while Rouhani called for less governmental control over the Internet, which is heavily restricted and censored in Iran, he also allowed the development of projects designed to monitor cyberspace and suppress dissent online, CHRI said.

“Rouhani’s administration has poured millions into the country’s state-produced domestic Internet service, the National Information Network (NIN), which offers financial incentives to entice Iranians to use it over the freer worldwide web while granting the state greater surveillance capabilities and control over the content NIN hosts,” CHRI reported.

According to CHRI, Iranian online users were imprisoned during Rouhani’s first term (2013-17) for the content of their personal social media postings. As many as 7 million websites were also blocked during Rouhani’s first term, according to recent comments by outgoing Communication and Information Technology Minister Vaezi.

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