Iranians’ most basic rights are being violated. Internet access and privacy have become integral to the fundamental human rights of freedom of speech, expression and association, the right to access information, and the right to privacy. Yet with the development of the NIN, which has advanced considerably under the Rouhani administration, Iranians are being subjected to an increasingly sophisticated system of online control, censorship and surveillance. Their ability to freely access information and a secure means of communications is becoming more difficult. Indeed, their very ability to access the global internet, and with it, information that is not state-approved, is now dependent upon state will. State -sponsored hacking in Iran is also accelerating and being routinely used to unlawfully obtain “evidence” to prosecute individuals—without public protest or comment by President Rouhani.
The right to privacy is specifically referenced in Iranian law yet it is violated with impunity in Iran by intelligence and security officials who work hand in hand with the judiciary to exert control over the citizenry and punish whomever they believe challenges that control. In this they have the robust support of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who views the internet as a Western -inspired plot to weaken the Islamic Republic. While the Rouhani administration pays lip service to the vital role of digital communication in modern life, and has in some respects supported this role by upgrading the technical infrastructure in Iran, it has proceeded steadily with state initiatives that are significantly expanding online control and surveillance and has remained silent in the face of intensified state hacking.
In such an environment, peaceful dissent, another basic right under Iranian and international law, is undermined and carries grave risk. The numerous Iranians sitting in prisons throughout the country after trials that lacked any semblance of due process and based on unlawfully obtained online content attests to this.
It is incumbent upon those in Iran who support the rule of law, as well as those in the international community who accept the responsibility to defend citizens’ rights wherever they are, to speak out forcefully against such policies and inform Iranian state officials that they are unacceptable. It is also imperative for governments worldwide, the United Nations, and the technology sector to fully support the Iranian people’s efforts to access a free, open and safe internet, and the tools and services that support that access. Internet freedom and freedom are now one and the same.