Watchdog Blasts Iranian Bill To Further Restrict Internet

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is expressing concern over reports that an Iranian Internet bill seen as part of a campaign to create a closed national web is moving ahead in parliament.

"Instead of further controlling what journalists and citizens can do online, Iranian lawmakers should be finding ways to promote the free flow of information," CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator Sherif Mansour said in a statement on November 1.

"All of society suffers when barriers to open Internet access prevent journalists from doing their jobs," he added.

The legislation in question was undergoing review by a parliamentary subcommittee last month and is moving ahead, with the proposed legislation expected to be ratified in early 2022, according to media reports.

A draft of the law released in July would strengthen the government's legal authority to block websites and platforms run by foreign technology companies without a local representative in Iran.

It would also require people to register with an ID to access the Internet, as well as criminalize the production, sale, and distribution of virtual private networks (VPNs), which people can use to circumvent government restrictions on the web.

International social-media platforms are already subject to blocking in Iran, and journalists and others rely on VPNs to access services like Telegram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Of the 15 journalists behind bars during CPJ's annual census of imprisoned journalists published in December, several were jailed for posting on social media.

An Iranian-hosted online petition calling for the government "not to create new barriers" to the Internet has garnered more than 1.1 million signatures so far.