Iran’s Leader Seeks Control of Internet

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, having strengthened his position in the Iranian parliament, is moving to try to control the internet in Iran. He has appointed a committee including lame duck president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, officials from the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the head of the supreme court, and the speaker of parliament. The Iranian state has in the past spoken of developing a cyberspace network that works only in Iran and is disconnected from the world wide web. (I don’t think they get the concept of ‘the world wide web’.)

Ironically, during the lead-up to the parliamentary elections, the Supreme Leader appears to have ordered internet sites sympathetic to Ahmadinejad himself taken off line. So, the talk among the ayatollahs about the threat of the internet to morals is probably a cover for concern that it might help open up the political system, as has happened in the Arab countries affected by the Arab Spring.

Iran, along with China and a handful of other countries, has imposed the most extensive controls on the internet. (Informed Comment cannot be seen in Iran, or in parts of western Pakistan that get their internet service from Iran). There is some danger that the dark areas in the map below will spread.

In the map below, from 2010, blue means ‘no censorship,’ yellow means ‘some censorship,’ red means ‘under surveillance,’ and black means ‘heavy surveillance,’ to the point that the country is an ‘internet black hole.’ Wouldn’t it be nice if the United States were blue?

internet censorship

from Wikimedia

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Responses | Print |

10 Responses

  1. Instead of concentrating on Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons, the well-meaning people in the West who would really like to help the Iranians and to create a more stable and harmonious world should concentrate on the clerical regime’s appalling human rights record, the growing government crackdown, the restrictions imposed both on the cyberspace as well as on the physical, mental and spiritual activities of the Iranians, their political participation, their freedom of expression, religious and ideological freedoms, free travel abroad, gender equality, universal right to education, etc.

    A campaign for true freedom and democracy in Iran does not need bombs and bullets and will attract millions of Iranians who initially took part in the revolution with their slogans of “freedom, independence, social justice”, and who again poured to the streets in their millions three years ago after the fraudulent election results, asking “where is my vote?” If the West concentrated more on these issues and less on a military option they would find that a true and lasting regime change would take place from inside by the Iranians themselves. Thank you Juan for raising this issue.

    • Sorry, Farhang, it’s all we, collectively, know how to do. So very sorry.

      Per the cliche, all we got is a Big MF Hammer (and an 8 mpg [12.8 km/30.3 l], 6500-pound [2954 kg] SUV to drive it around in.) And a strangler’s grip on the knot of a tightening noose of “sanctions that are not a blockade.”

      Meantime, a few of us live very, very, very well off the fear and sweat of the rest of us. Same like you. We could both do better. We probably won’t.

  2. I’m not convinced that absolutely no censorship of the net is desirable, IF the censorship is restricted to paedophile and snuff-porn sites, for instance, slippery slope notwithstanding.

  3. re: “Wouldn’t it be nice if the United States were blue?”

    It is, under the correct, updated map.
    You’re being sloppy.
    “Attributed on the web to the Nut Graph” is the best you can do? Was it too much work to link to the website?
    link to
    The Nut Graph website attributes it to Wikimedia commons.

    Wikipedia’s page on Internet Censorship by country attributes the data to But I can’t see it there.

    As it happens, there’s a more up-to-date map within the wikimedia universe:
    link to

    In this new map, Venezuela shows greater censorship than the U.S. — that’s sounds right.

    Please do a service from your scholarly perch to spread the word to correct this. (You’ve got a much larger readership than I). It’s not the danger of wikipedia per se — it’s the danger of unsourced infographics, which are a bit tougher for the average person to correct than a paragraph of text.


  4. Juan:

    I am somewhat skeptical of the first three categories, from “No Censorship” to “Under Surveillance”. What defines some censorship? Laws against child pornography could be construed as “Some censorship”, or even laws against obsenity.

    And I have some doubts that Australia’s Internet is a few steps away from 1984, or are really that much more heavily policed than Canada’s.

    The “No Censorship” countries appear in large part to be those with limited to no “state capacity”, lacking the ability to even do bare-minimum policing of the Internet.

    Great pic though! I am going to post it to my facebook wall.

    • You make some very good points, Frank. Most of the “blue” countries with no censorship appear to be those with no ability to apply state censorship (although Chile would certainly be an exception). That is a far different animal than making a conscious decision not to censor.

      And some censorship, limited to policing child pornography, outright financial scams that prey on the vulnerable, and the like, is not a bad thing.

  5. Actually, no. It would be nice if the UNited States were blue. The internet delivers a boatload of crap – pornography and financial scams in particular and pries relentlessly on the vulnerable like children, elders, good intentioned but naive people. The state has an inherent interest in maintaining some level of control so that these inconveniences are minimized. All in all, we don’t do a bad job at it even if it is not perfect.

  6. a cyberspace network that works only in Iran and is disconnected from the world wide web

    I, for one, look forward to the development of LolGoats.

  7. Note that one of the countries with heavy surveillance, Egypt, and two of the countries shown as “under surveillance”, Libya and Yemen, have since had their governments overthrown.

    This reminds me of a Daffy Duck cartoon from World War 2 where the Nazis capture US courier Daffy, and Hitler and his cronies show up to examine the message. The message says, “Hitler is a stinker!” Goering exclaims, “That’s no secret! Everybody knows that!” So he has to shoot himself.

    I think those countries’ internet Orwell departments must have made the same mistake.

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