New Opportunities for Promotion of Human Rights in Iran  

In a series of events about civic activism and human rights, Hivos organised a workshop entitled: “The Future of Human Rights in Iran” on 19 June 2013 at the Museum for Communication in The Hague. This policy seminar explored the results of the elections in Iran and discussed the next steps for the promotion of human rights and activism in Iran for the coming years. Several experts and policy makers gave brief opening presentations that were followed by discussion.

In an effort to explore new opportunities for promoting human rights in Iran, Arash Abdapour delivered a presentation on Internet openness in Iran based on his report published by IGMENA about the quest for an open Internet in the MENA region. He started by characterising the relationship between Iran and the Internet as an unhappy one. The Internet has played a vital role in disseminating content, allowing the outside world to know what is happening inside Iran.

For most of the world, the Internet is a World Wide Web, however for the Iranian regime, it is a World Wide Wickedness. The political region perceives the Internet as a riffle that should be regulated, controlled, and essentially stopped from functioning, due to the role the Internet played in social and political change. Furthermore, the value system the regime wants the public to adopt is that there are a lot of content on the Internet that cannot exist in any public conversation in Iran. The fact that Iran is experiencing attaches on its reputation through the Internet further justifies the regime's fear of this powerful communication tool.

There are three types of active players. First, there is the state that is worried about the Internet and presumes that evil is coming out of Internet cables. Second, there are activists and individuals who are organizing and using the Internet as a tool for political change. Third, there are international organisations providing funding and support for projects that are using the Internet as a tool for political change.

How can we promote the freedom of the Internet and not fall into a trap of over-politicising the web? In replying to this question, Mr Abdapour stressed that instead of promoting "Internet freedom", the international community should promote the Internet as an asset for "freedom of expression".

Mr Abdapour described the Iranian national internet by declaring, "the genie is out of the bottle." Despite the fact that the Iran-only internet excludes the World Wide Web—as all the gates are operated by the government and only allow for networking inside Iran—some believes the national Internet will still open the door to possibilities. It will provide opportunities for communications and conversations within Iran with high-quality bandwidth and network with high speed, and establish a shadow network to transmit messages between individuals without the need to be monitored.

Mr Abdapour tackled the ongoing problem of Internet filtering and highlighted its main threats in preventing people from getting access to information as well as disrupting communications. Moreover, filtering is damaging to the social/political movement in Iran because it wastes people’s energy that can be used for political mobilisation.

Mr Abdapour concluded his presentation by stating that we should not be afraid of Iran's national internet because it provides opportunities and possibilities. As for the concept of a "free" Internet, the public is still waiting for a clarification about what that means.