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Censorship in Iran

“Under the judicial law of the Islamic republic of Iran, it is not lawful to access this site.”

“Under the judicial law of the Islamic republic of Iran, it is not lawful to access this site.”

It is possible that if you use the internet in Iran you will be less likely to see this page. At the beginning of this month, Iran stated that it is willing to negotiate with big internet firms. Stating that they would like to include firms such as Google and Twitter to operate in Iran as long as those firms respect their cultural values and rules they have set in place. This has been long awaited news for the people of Iran. They have been dealing with government censorship for a very long time and they are ready for some of this censorship to be relaxed. Even President Rouhani has a Twitter account.

But how does the Iranian government decide what will get censored? The blanket statement is anything that deviates from the country’s principles. Since Iran is a theocratic republic this includes anything that could go against Islamic standards and also anything that could cause instability in the country. Some examples of inappropriate topics include discontent among the citizens, Iran’s economic issues and any talk of reformation of the government. Everything is subject to being censored including television, the media, books, the internet, films, the radio and video games.

The internet in Iran is highly restricted by the government. There is a lot of site blocking and restricted access. The government keeps the internet speed at 128 kbps for average users. This is about two times faster than dial-up from the 90’s. If you require a faster internet speed you need special permission from the government. Usually you have to be a scientist or an important government employee to get a faster internet speed. The sites that are blocked are primarily adult sites, but about half of the top 500 websites are blocked. The list of blocked websites changes often usually to do with what is going on politically at the time. During the election between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, Facebook was blocked because it was providing a platform for Mousavi supporters to spread their ideas and become more organized. Other sites such as Twitter and Youtube get intermittently blocked. Since Ahmadinejad left office the government has started taking a more filtered approach to censorship than just banning every website that has something they don’t agree with. They started testing with Instagram. Instead of just blocking the whole site they blocked all images that could be a threat to their societal ideal. This method has spread to several other sites. They are also implementing a strategy that they are calling tailored censorship where they allow people above certain ages to access sites like Facebook. This method has gotten some backlash. In order to get to sites you have to pay the government for a proxy which has people questioning if their primary aim is censorship or having another way to make money.

The media in Iran is structured very differently than ours. There are a few different channels all of which are owned by the government and all are heavily censored. It is stated in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, “The freedom of expression and dissemination of thoughts in the Radio and Television of the Islamic Republic of Iran must be guaranteed in keeping with the Islamic criteria and the best interests of the country.”  The Leader of Iran also has the power to appoint the head of the radio and television. The Iranians get the vast majority of their news from government owned news stations. Even though there are strict censoring standards in television in Iran, the government has a hard time stopping the citizens from using satellite dishes. They are illegal, but even after several government crackdowns, the government estimates about 40% of the population has a satellite dish while other sources say the number is closer to 70%. With satellite dishes they can access channels from all over the Middle East and even Europe and Asia.

ISNA-satellite-dishes1

As far as print media goes this is a pretty common sight. These images were either edited by the government or by the people selling them so that they would not get in trouble with the government.

1_IranMag-a    2_IranMag-a
9_IranMag-a

Things are looking hopeful for literature. After Ahmadinejad left office, the system of reviewing books has become more relaxed. There have been time frames put in place on how low in can take to review a book and fewer books are being completely banned. While the books are not being banned, the people who review the books still make changes. They still will not allow anything to be published that does not conform to the ideals of the country or to Islam. This could be whole themes that get removed from a book or in smaller cases it may involve just swapping words out. There are several words that the reviewers look for; some of them include pork, dog, kiss, wine, drunk, dance and meditation. These words will be replaced with more appropriate terms. There are still many books that are outright banned. Iran does not have a specified list of every book it does not allow in the country, but here are a few titles that are currently not suitable to be read in Iran. Plato’s Symposium, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Marjane Sarpi’s Persepolis. Most of these books were banned because of their inconsistency with Islam. Persepolis, both the book and the film, were banned because it criticizes the regime and even talks about censorship and the banning that occurs in Iran.Persepolis

The films banned in Iran follow the same strategies as the books. Films that cast any type of negative light on Islam, Iran or the current government will be banned. Some of these include 300, Argo and Saturday Night Fever. Other movies get heavily censored. They often change translations, add modesty and remove any behavior such as kissing between two people of the opposite sex.

IranCine  IranCine2

The censorship in Iran is strict, but a lot of it goes unenforced. The government often only punishes for some of these laws, such as owning a banned book or having a satellite dish as an excuse when they want to arrest someone for other reasons such as demonstrating or spreading reformist ideas. It seems that whatever the government bans becomes even more popular among the citizens. For example, a few years ago the government banned dogs from private apartments and from being walked on public streets, but to this day, dogs are more popular than they ever were before the ban. These actions give the government a weak appearance and show how you can have all of these strict laws, but without enforcement, they mean only what the people want them to mean.

Sources-

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/iran-books-culture-minister-publishing-ali-jannati.html#

http://fis-iran.org/en/resources/legaldoc/constitutionislamic

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/01/iran-to-allow-google-to-operate-if-it-respects-cultural-values

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jul/21/iran-supreme-leader-attacks-books

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/cropped-modesty-irans-high-tech-tricks-for-censoring-american-movies/260851/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13980138

http://www.ncr-iran.org/en/news/iran-resistance/14464-iran-regime-admit-over-40-iranians-view-satellite-tv-despite-crackdown

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16 Comments

  1. mdsmith910 says:

    I’ve never thought about movies being censored like that, let along books! It would be interesting to see how much time and money are spent censoring internet sites, ads, movies, articles, etc., because I feel like Iran’s resources could be better spent. I understand for example that the purpose of blocking Facebook was to stop a platform for organization, but shouldn’t the government just make a law against creating groups like that on the internet? (which would also suck, but at least other people would be able to use Facebook for other reasons)

  2. wcarter31 says:

    Though it is still very different from the freedoms of expression we enjoy in the United States, it does appear to me that Iran is becoming more progressive with censorship. The new president appears to allow the citizens more freedom in this are than Ahmadinejad did in that the sites are evaluated prior to censorship rather than just blocking them outright, so this does appear to be progress.

  3. lalaninatl says:

    I would think that government is banning/censoring things to be politically correct in terms of Islamic laws but most of the country has only progressed and sees the bans as a way to make people who care happy. Also, as technology progresses and people become smarter, they find ways to get around what the government says/filters. Censorship a lot of times will upset people and cause them to retaliate. However, it seems that Iran has made it a joke to ban/censor things and that is never a good thing. It basically means people don’t take their government seriously.

  4. trevormcelhenny says:

    Yes, it does make the government appear weak….or lazy. I mean, if they were really serious about strict enforcement, it would not be hard to quell the illegal users of satellite dishes….they’re out in the open, in an unobstructed spot and there’s a long wire connecting it to the user. Doesn’t get much easier than that!

    Good post! I like the strategically placed water pitcher.

  5. khospedales3 says:

    It makes me happy to see that the US government is pushing toward net neutrality and maintaining a free, open Internet for everyone. Though we may not quite have the same censorship issues that Iran does, our Internet Service Providers would love to rake in more profits by charging customers or businesses more money for access to more bandwidth for specific services (e.g. the Netflix-Comcast debacle), much like the tailored censorship by the Iranian government described in this post. I’m glad in this situation, we seem to be keeping the US government on the side of the people, and it’s a shame that Iran and other Middle Eastern countries won’t be able to enjoy an open Internet anytime soon simply because of the cultural differences.

  6. cryan3232 says:

    While I do not think that many of us are surprised that Iran censors media to an extent, I found it very interesting that sites would be blocked at various times. It the blocking of Facebook was actually used as a form to gain a political advantage in an election it is a clear abuse of power. In a world where the use of the internets as political play forming is expanding this may become a larger issue for the country.

  7. missypittard says:

    Very interesting post! To the Islamic based government, there are multiple factors at play for the censorship, despite its apparent implication of their inability to enforce laws. The government is in a place where it struggles to maintain a theocratic stronghold over its citizens in this day and age. These censorship laws serve as a whip for the government to those who are advocating for any sort of government reform. It seems these laws will remain in place until a breaking point is reached, where the government can no longer enforce laws in any area.

  8. Travis says:

    During my freshman year, I had a roommate from China, and he told met that what you just described happens in Iran also happens in China. Whenever, he goes home for the break, and I want to contact him I have to email him as opposed to Facebook. That was just a side note. In regards to your post, I think, as you mentioned, that you can only control so much when it comes to social media due to the fact that media is so vast. No matter how many things they review or block, there are still going to be hundreds of other media examples of the ideals they’re trying to block. Therefore, the citizens are bound to be influenced by other ideals, even if they aren’t exposed to them as much as they would be without Iran’s regulations.

  9. jackjenkins2015 says:

    The issue of censorship is a strong one in the world today. With the growth of the internet and the easier access to more information (as well as other more nefarious things on the internet) has become an issue to the countries who rely on censorship and direct influence of the population. You definitely bring up some great points and I didn’t realize exactly how politics affected this. Also, I think that the idea of limited censorship (like blocking certain things instead of just a whole website) is sneaky and potentially more dangerous because people might not realize that things are being censored. It is definitely an interesting point, and thanks for sharing this.

  10. corypope6 says:

    Censorship is not always a bad thing, but censorship needs to be reserved for issues of national security or other serious matters. But what is considered a serious matter? I think that everyone can agree that Ricky Bobby in tightey whiteys is something that does not warrant censorship. I also think that if you are going to censor something it should be censored all the time. Youtube and Twitter being censored during election times is absurd because it is intentionally blocking the public from receiving and transmitting information. Iran claims that it is protecting its citizens, but it is really hindering them.

  11. mlucchi says:

    Although censorship is inherently bad for society, this is a step in the right direction. Some internet is better than no internet. Drastic changes do not usually happen without revolution. The people have to wait for change to happen gradually. The internet is vast and hard to control so continued freedom has to happen. As long as Iran continues to move toward more freedom of speech, the people should be hopeful.

  12. kimpgt says:

    This was an interesting read! In America, we have so much internet freedom and access to high volumes of uncensored movies, books, magazines and other forms of media I would greatly struggle moving to places like Iran where the government blocks so many websites and arrests people under that pretense. I thought it was bizarre that satellite dishes are reasons for arrests. I feel that this type of control pushes back advancement and development. The rest of the world is very tech savvy and communicates through social media, if the Iranian government keep blocking these forms of media, it stunts progress.

  13. ashumway3 says:

    It’s an interesting discussion as to what the government has a right to censor. Different governments around the world have different goals and motives, but public safety is pretty much universal. The government of Iran justifies this censorship by claiming they are doing it in the interest of public safety, but it is my opinion that it is not the role of the government to dictate what people can believe or think, and therefore it should not censor a mode of communication as important as the internet.

  14. jjacob7 says:

    Informative post. I think that the censorship of speech or other forms of expression that don’t harm others is going to present real problems for autocratic governments as it becomes easier for ideas and content to be shared globally. States like Iran, Russia, and China, and perhaps to a lesser extent North Korea because of their isolation, will have to figure out new ways to “contain the masses.” Unfortunately, as some have mentioned, oftentimes this means a sort of diluted freedom. Governments can present a facade of openness in society by allowing citizens to access Twitter and YouTube while controlling what can be transmitted behind the scenes so that more controversial content will never be seen. That’s a scary idea to me because it accomplishes the goal of censorship while simultaneously quelling any popular uprisings concerning a lack of freedom.

  15. amiteichenbaum says:

    I think that when countries act this way, they are unaware of how it affects their international view. Censorship is so regressive and causes a lack of respect for governments that do it. If your power is only legitimized by repression of public thought, it must not be representative of the people. It is so clear that this guise of protection of citizens (a concept in itself that is outrageous) is a front to prevent the potential of questioning the government. What they don’t realize is that this not only weakens the government, but it weakens the people. Without new opinions, without representation of real life even, there is no progress. If everyone is experiencing the same diluted media, there are no new ideas. This is of course what the government wants.

  16. jkempa3 says:

    I enjoyed this piece. I do not agree with the way Iran is censoring the people’s access to the outside world. It s a a sever hindrance to the country’s progression on the world stage. It is also an infringement upon human rights. People should be able to access, within reason, whatever they want. Government, medical, and military files should be a bit more exclusive to access but most other information should be freely accessible. Great post.

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