News / Middle East

    Iran Bolsters Phone, Internet Surveillance

    One year after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani assumed office, the regime in Tehran is apparently stepping up surveillance of its citizens’ online and telephone activities, threatening some with punishment for “seditious” activities.

    Recently, a viewer of VOA’s Persian service living in Shiraz sent several images of SMS text messages that were sent to his phone after he had called in to VOA’s interactive Straight Talk TV program.

    “You have been influenced by foreign media’s anti-security propaganda,” reads one text message. “If you contact the media outlets outside Iran you will be subject to punishment by Islamic Laws.”

    One message dates back to 2013, while dates of others have been obscured. There is also incomplete information as to where the text was sent from.

    Straight Talk co-host Rozita Namini has heard similar stories over the last several years.

    “In my experience, not everyone gets these, and it depends on the topic and what’s being said,” she said. “Authorities seem to be targeting younger people especially; they’re very concerned about what the young people are saying and watching.”

    Mahsa Alimardani, an Iranian blogger living in Canada, agrees.

    “This is very ordinary,” she told VOA via email. “Many folks associated with foreign media are often harassed in this manner.”

    The worry from some, however, is whether the government in Tehran is beginning to crack down harder now that Rouhani has been in office for one year.

    On Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with Rouhani and his Cabinet and issued a stern warning to Iranians regarding what they say publicly.

    Referring to “red lines” and “seditious activities”, Khamenei cautioned Iranians to “keep distance” from those activities or organizations that Tehran says threaten Iranian national security.

    “There are definite red lines that you can’t cross,” said Kaveh Adib, a producer for VOA’s Persian language programming. “As Khamenei recently said, they don’t really care what you’re saying, as long as anything being said doesn’t threaten the security of the state – which basically means the regime.”

    Adib said most Iranians know that the government there routinely monitors citizen’s phone calls – both who is being called and what’s being said.

    While the Internet is also heavily filtered, it can be easier to send emails and images critical of the regime online than over the phone.

    By sending text messages that read, in part, “Your unlawful activity has been detected, repeating such activities will be punishable by law,” Adib said it’s clear Tehran is working hard to frighten individuals from speaking their minds.

    “It’s a clear warning,” said Fred Petrossian, online editor in chief at VOA’s sister broadcast service Radio Farda. “I think when there’s a crisis in Iran, or a demonstration, or some sensitive political anniversary – such as an election – they become much more alert and try to control and try to stop outflowing of information to outside,” he said.

    There’s growing evidence that authorities may be more alert.

    A group who posted what appeared to be a relatively innocuous video of them lip-syncing to Pharrel’s hit song ‘Happy’ found themselves hauled to jail. The detention of reporters, like the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian, has increased lately. And just last month, an Iranian court sentenced eight young people, aged 11 to 21, to a total of 127 years in prison for posting “anti-regime” material on Facebook.

    Robert Ruby, a staffer at Freedom House, said SMS monitoring and auto-texting isn’t uncommon, especially at sensitive moments, such as during a presidential election.

    “It is our impression that this type of bulk texting is mainly used as a ploy by governments to intimidate citizens,” Ruby said via email, adding it was “similar to how Ukrainian protestors received texts on their phones stating that their presence at the Maidan had been recorded.”

    And in spite of the warnings and harassment, Radio Farda’s Petrossian said Iranians continue to post critical material online, and they haven’t stopped calling in to programs like those on Radio Farda.

    Thirty years after the Iranian revolution, people are starting to speak up and speak out,” he said. “People really don’t accept this kind of full control and Big Brother kind of thing. They want to get involved and speak out. It’s something I see every day. “

    Still, the threatening text messages haven’t yet slowed the number of daily phone calls or emails sent to Straight Talk. Host Namini said they take 20 calls daily during the hour-long program, and often receive twice that many voice messages.

    Said PNN producer Adib, “If they arrested everybody who ever criticized the government, they’d have to arrest the entire country.”

     


    Doug Bernard

    dbjohnson+voanews.com

    Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: rouhani ayatollah from: Russia
    August 30, 2014 11:56 AM
    It's time for iranian to revolt and cleans out this demonic regime and enjoy a democratic government

    by: Nas from: Cali
    August 30, 2014 11:50 AM
    It can't be worse than NSA.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora