While Persian-speaking satellite channels in Iran have been periodically subject to jamming since 2003, the information and communications technology minister says that equipment for monitoring “jamming signals” has been installed in the city of Shiraz and several other cities across the country.
Earlier, the Health Ministry, along with Shiraz's representatives to the Iranian parliament, had warned against the health risks of exposure to jamming signals.
The jamming of satellites reached a peak following the widespread protests against the re-election of incumbent President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2009. The Islamic Republic does not want the citizens to have access to independent news and information.
Iran rarely uses the jamming technique that hits the satellite in the sky with counter-beams. This method cannot target one or two specific programs, instead it blinds many adjacent satellite channels; leading to international backlash. So Iran has developed an alternative method.
Specially equipped trucks go from neighborhood to neighborhood and engage in surface level jamming. This can be very dangerous for people's health as it uses harmful electromagnetic emissions.
In 2017, a rare protest by Iranians against their government’s use of broadcast jamming equipment brought global attention to growing concerns about the health impact of the practice.
Hundreds of residents of Fars Province capital, Shiraz joined the protests on January 9, 2017, rallying outside the headquarters of the governor of the Province. Participants sent a video of the protest to Radio Farda, showing enraged demonstrators, protesting exposure to the jamming signals.
Furthermore, protesters blamed the government’s local jamming operations for a series of health problems suffered by residents, from headaches to cancer. Some chanted, “Jamming is betrayal of the people,” while others said good health is an “inalienable right,” Radio Farda reported.
Radio Farda, along with VOA and BBC, has long been a victim of jamming in Iran.
A month after the protests in Shiraz, Iran's Health Ministry announced it had set up a committee to investigate whether the state's jamming of satellite signals could pose a health risk to citizens.
"The initial reports show that jamming signals pose no physical harm, but the committee needs to carry out its investigation thoroughly,” Health Minister Hassan Qazizadeh Hashemi said at the time, adding, “Rumors are widespread about jamming's effects and consequences on people's health but most of the rumors have no scientific basis."
Nevertheless, his deputy, Reza Malekzadeh, disclosed on May 9, 2017, “Side effects of satellite jamming signals could lead to miscarriage and birth defects.”
Referring to the fact that jamming signals in Iran are relayed from the ground, Malekzadeh said, “Such signals are the most dangerous ones, and should be banned.”
Earlier, in an article published on December 22, 2016, Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA had cited Malekzadeh as saying “preliminary studies” indicated that electromagnetic jamming signals can increase the risk of cancer. He gave no further detail on the studies that he cited. Malekzadeh was speaking on the sidelines of a cancer research event in Shiraz, IRNA said.
Warnings about exposure to satellite jamming signals goes back years before Malekzadeh’s comments.
In 2012, Massoumeh Ebtekar, then a member of Tehran’s city council, insisted that jamming was dangerous for the health of Tehran’s residents. She also regretfully admitted that no one in the government was admitting to being behind the jamming.
"What we know is that these signals have an impact on people’s health and the body’s cells. As an immunologist and researcher, I'd say that these signals could be the source of many illnesses,” Ebtekar said.
Although Iran’s officials have repeatedly insisted that the source of the jamming is a mystery, some opposition sources have reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), along with the state-run national radio and TV (IRIB), are behind it.
Nonetheless, the jamming operation has continued in Iran, while Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
In the meantime, it is not yet clear how installing special equipment for “monitoring” and “registration” of jamming signals could end people’s concerns about the health risks of exposure to such signals.