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Iran's Military To Get Involved In Messenger Apps

IRAN -- In this photo provided Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, by Iran's Information and Communications Technology, Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi looks at The Nahid-1 domestically-built satellite at the space

The Islamic Republic Minister of Communications and Information Technology (ITC), Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi, says the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces will begin developing infrastructure related to cyberspace.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of a data center on Sunday, Azari-Jahromi said, "Messengers are another critical issue that the General Staff is helping with."

Azari-Jahromi had previously dismissed the idea of involving the military in Iranian cyberspace.

Iran's official news agency, IRNA, cited Azari-Jahromi as saying, "Do not worry about disconnecting the Internet and restricting foreign social networks."

However, hours earlier on Sunday, Abolhassan Firoozabadi, the Secretary of Iran's Supreme Council of Cyberspace (ISCC), had stressed that if the platforms on the Internet are not compatible with Iran's red lines of social conduct, they will be filtered.

Firoozabadi reiterated that "if the platforms do not comply with Iranian law" or "create cultural, social, political and security issues" for Iran, they will be censored.

Speaking on a TV show, Firoozabad praised China as a successful "model" in censoring and filtering the Internet. China did it through simulating applications and tools, Firouzabadi noted.

Earlier on August 24, several members of the Iranian Majlis Parliament submitted a motion to the parliament's presidium to "organize social media," emphasizing the need to replace foreign messaging apps with domestic ones.

The motion, which was amended and signed by forty members of the Iranian parliament, contains fines and imprisonment for those who provide social media and messaging apps without a license or reproduce and distribute VPNs and filter breakers.

Mohammad Saleh Jokar, the chairman of the Council and Internal Affairs Commission of the Iranian Parliament, commented on September 1 that lran's launching of a national intranet is included in the new partnership being planned between Iran and China.

Speaking to the pro-reform website Entekhab (Choice), Jokar said that Tehran had welcomed the cooperation of countries such as China and Russia in its internet development, adding 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 to develop cyberspace."

In a recent meeting with President Hassan Rouhani's cabinet, the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, harshly criticized the government for not holding Supreme Council of Cyberspace meetings and delaying the creation of a domestic intranet.

A few days after Kahemeni's criticism, Azari-Jahromi said that "the events of November (widespread uprising against the clergy-dominated political establishment) showed that we failed, and our domestic search engines were incapable of meeting people's demands."

In November 2018, local news outlets previously reported that a member of Majlis' Cultural Commission, Nasrullah Pejmanfar, had submitted a parliamentary motion to "hand over the control of the Internet to the armed forces."

Based on the proposed motion, the representatives of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as the police and the Passive Defense Organization, would be the "effective members" of a "supervisory board" responsible for controlling the activities of domestic and foreign messaging apps.

At the time, Azari-Jahromi raised his opposition, insisting that his department was against handing over the Internet to the Armed Forces.

Nonetheless, Azari-Jahromi immediately noted that should the motion be ratified, the ITC would obey accordingly.

Meanwhile, there was some opposition inside Majlis as well, with a member of Majlis' Cultural Commission, Mehdi Sheihk, claiming that since the people of Iran did not trust domestic messaging apps, handing over the responsibility of controlling the Internet from the government to the military would create an "additional challenge" that would lead to a "confrontation between the people and the Armed Forces."

Sheikh also expressed some hope that Iran's armed forces would not be willing to "engage themselves in disputes that have nothing to do with them."