Iran’s Abusive Internet Shutdown Illustrates Dangers of ‘National Internet’
Decision to shut down digital communications is suppressive and abusive
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) – The Iranian government’s decision to shut down access to the Internet is an abusive misuse of power, and an illustration of the dangers of the government’s efforts to build Iran’s own “national Internet,” PEN America said today.
This past weekend, in order to suppress news of anti-government protests, the Iranian government imposed a nationwide Internet blackout. Up to 95 percent of all Iranians were reportedly offline within 24 hours of the shutdown. It comes as news accounts suggest more than 100 protesters may have been killed, and journalists are reportedly being prevented from covering the demonstrations.
“The Iranian government’s decision to impose a nationwide blackout on global Internet access in order to suppress news of anti-government protests is deeply abusive, completely unjustifiable, and clearly self-serving,” said Summer Lopez, senior director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Internet shutdowns are a tactic that comes directly from the autocratic playbook. They abuse the civil and political rights of every single person affected – including the rights to freedom of expression and of access to information. The blackout is also clearly intended to prevent Iranian audiences as well as the rest of the world from receiving any information about alleged governmental abuses in response to the protests. We call upon the government of Iran to lift this Internet blackout and to cease these attacks on protesters immediately.”
Iran has reportedly allowed access to its National Information Network, a domestic digital network that observers have described as akin to Iran’s own national Internet. This government-maintained network allows Iran full control over the content of the network, as well as essentially-unrestricted access to network users’ account information.
“Iran’s Internet blackout also helps demonstrate the dangers of nations building their own national internet,” Lopez said. “Iranian officials clearly feel emboldened that they can shut down access to the Internet and use their own network as a backup. But the government has hard-baked its censorship strictures into the network, so that their national internet is fundamentally incompatible with international guarantees of freedom of expression. This is in addition to the obvious potential for invasive state surveillance and monitoring that would be near-impossible for them to accomplish on the global internet.”
PEN America’s advocacy on freedom of expression in Iran include its statements on behalf of imprisoned human rights lawyer and writer Nasrin Sotoudeh, journalist Narges Mohammadi, poet Mohammad Bam, and others. In 2011, PEN America awarded Sotoudeh its annual Freedom to Write Award.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
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