: President Ahmadinejad visits Khorasan Razavi Province
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A Facebook page calling for Shahin Najafi’s elimination
: President Ahmadinejad visits Khorasan Razavi Province
: President Ahmadinejad visits Khorasan Razavi Province
: President Ahmadinejad visits Khorasan Razavi Province
: President Ahmadinejad visits Khorasan Razavi Province
Highlights of the week
- Iran shows resolve ahead of resumption of nuclear talks in Baghdad.
- From the memoirs of former chief nuclear negotiator: Hassan Rouhani exposes new details on Iran’s nuclear policy.
- Persian Gulf tensions escalate: Iran reacts strongly to Saudi Arabia-Bahrain union initiative.
- Salman Rushdie affair, 2012 version: Shahin Najafi and the song that angered Shi’ite clerics.
- New restrictions on use of foreign email servers.
Iran shows resolve ahead of resumption of nuclear talks in Baghdad
On the eve of the nuclear talks between Iran and the West, scheduled to resume in Baghdad on May 23, top officials and media in Iran show resolve and demand that Western countries change their hostile stance towards the Islamic republic.
Sa’id Jalili, chairman of the Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator, warned Western countries this week that making pointless statements just as the talks are about to resume in Baghdad may jeopardize their success. At a meeting with former French PM Michel Rocard, who visited Tehran this week, Jalili said that the age of the anti-Iranian “pressure strategy” is over. According to Jalili, Iran has adopted a reasonable approach towards the talks and it now expects Western countries to take measures to gain the trust of the Iranian people (Mehr, May 13).
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast also called on Western countries to adopt a positive approach towards Iran in the coming talks. Speaking at his weekly press conference, Mehmanparast said that the policy of pressure will not achieve the desired results, and that if the West shows willingness to cooperate with Iran, it will be reciprocated in kind, which will benefit both sides (Fars, May 14). Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy, also took a tough stance towards the West, warning that any attempt by the West to suspend the enrichment of uranium will derail the negotiations (Fars, May 12).
The resolute stance taken by Iran could also be seen in editorials published by the conservative press this week. Yadollah Javani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Political Department, said in an article published in the daily Javan that it is the West that has to use the talks to find a way out of the dead-end situation it has found itself in. The talks in Baghdad are highly significant, Javani argued, since they will tell if the change that could be seen in the Western stance during the Istanbul talks is fundamental or tactical.
The recent remarks and conduct of American and European officials towards Iran are proof that the West persists with its past policy, Javani said. The pressure exerted by the United States on various countries not to purchase Iranian oil, the statement made by the German foreign minister that the Iranian nuclear program is a “big threat”, and the visit of E.U. Foreign Affairs Representative Catherine Ashton to Israel add further weight to concerns that the West still considers the negotiations a means to exert pressure on Iran.
The ones who need to seize the new opportunity to promote talks between Iran and the Group of 5+1 are Western countries. The West’s decade-long efforts to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear country have failed. Iran has now mastered the nuclear fuel cycle, and its regional and international status is stronger than ever. According to Javani, Western countries keep ignoring the changing reality. Thanks to the Islamic revolution and the impact of such factors as the nuclear progress, the Islamic awakening, and the crisis in the West, the Iranian people have been transformed and are now more confident than ever in their ability to overcome the difficulties, the threats, and the sanctions. As far as Iran is concerned, it is the West that is facing a dead end and has to use the opportunity presented by the Baghdad talks to adopt a more realistic stance towards Iran. The talks may provide an opportunity for Western countries to make up for their past mistakes, open up a path for dialogue and cooperation with Iran, and offer them a way out of the dead end they are currently facing (Javan, May 13).
The daily Resalat demanded that Western countries change their stance towards Iran and questioned their intentions. Starting in 2003, the West adopted an aggressive stance towards Iran and rejected the trust-building measures it took, said an article titled “Realistic look at the Baghdad talks”. In the Istanbul talks, Western representatives recognized Iran’s rights and agreed to hold the negotiations under the NPT. However, the statements made by some Western leaders are proof that their promises are not to be trusted. Iran has proven its good faith with the fatwa issued by the Supreme Leader banning the use of nuclear weapons, and with its non-use of chemical weapons against Iraq during the war between the two countries. It is now up to Western countries to take trust-building measures towards Iran and stop the sanctions and the threats. According to Resalat, the Iranian public is not concerned that the Baghdad talks will fail, having already gotten used to the West’s conduct towards its country (Resalat, May 14).
The reports published this week about military nuclear activity taking place in the Parchin facility were portrayed in Iran as further evidence of Western attempts to step up pressure on the Iranian negotiators as the nuclear talks are about to resume.
The Tabnak website argued that these claims have been heard for the past nine years, and that two visits held by IAEA inspectors to Parchin produced no evidence of nuclear activity. Reports on activity on that base tend to resurface before talks between Iran and Western representatives or IAEA meetings about the Iranian nuclear program. They are intended solely as an excuse to exert pressure on Iran (Tabnak, May 14).
In an interview given to the Fararu website, the political commentator Hassan Beheshtipour also said that the reports about nuclear activity in Parchin are nothing new, and are an extension of the psychological and propaganda campaign waged by Western media against Iran in an attempt to influence the results of the negotiations. These are old reports already published and rejected by Iran. He noted that Iran has already allowed IAEA inspectors to visit the facility, and that there is no reason it would agree to expose a sensitive military installation to the inspectors—who have already proven themselves unable to maintain secrecy—just to demonstrate its good intentions (Fararu, May 14).
From the memoirs of former chief nuclear negotiator: Hassan Rouhani exposes new details on Iran’s nuclear policy
Dr. Hassan Rouhani, the Supreme National Security Council chairman under presidents Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) and Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and chief nuclear negotiator in the first half of the previous decade, has recently published a new book titled National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy.
In an in-depth interview given to the Mehrnameh periodical to mark the publication of the book, he addressed a number of issues pertaining to Iran’s foreign policy and nuclear strategy over the last decade.
Speaking about Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s fatwa banning the development and use of nuclear weapons, Rouhani noted that the ban was first brought up by Khamenei during a Friday prayer he gave in Tehran University in early November 2004, on the eve of the Paris talks between Iran and European countries. During the talks, Rouhani said, the fatwa was presented to the Europeans as proof that Iran had no interest in acquiring nuclear weapons. Rouhani told the Europeans that the fatwa was more important for Iran than the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the IAEA’s Additional Protocol. According to Rouhani, the Europeans understood the implications of the fatwa and even suggested making it part of Iranian law, an initiative which did not come to fruition.
Rouhani argued that the main reason for the failure of the talks held by Iran with European representatives in the mid-2000s was the position taken by the United States, which sought to undermine the negotiations. The Europeans themselves admitted, Rouhani said, that the Americans did not let them achieve an understanding with the Iranians. He said that in 2006, having left his position as chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, he traveled to Berlin to meet Germany’s former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who told him that even though an agreement with the Iranians could have been reached, the Americans prevented it by putting pressure on the European countries that conducted the negotiations.
Rouhani noted in the interview that he was in favor of bringing the Americans into the nuclear talks. He said that he likened negotiating with the Americans to driving a Mercedes Benz, compared to negotiating with European countries, which is like driving a Paykan (an Iranian-made car), or negotiating with the Non-Aligned Movement, which is similar to driving a bicycle.
Rouhani told Mehrnameh that in 2004 he got a call from IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei in Washington, who urgently requested a personal meeting in Tehran. During their conversation, ElBaradei brought Rouhani up to date about his conversation with U.S. President George Bush. ElBaradei had told Bush that the Americans needed to join the nuclear talks to solve the issue. Bush told him that all problems pertaining to Iran’s relations with the West had to be solved, not just the nuclear issue, and expressed his willingness to personally negotiate with Iran. The IAEA director general told Rouhani that it was an opportunity, and that Iran needed to appoint someone to negotiate with the United States. However, the Tehran regime made a decision not to negotiate. In Rouhani’s view, the Americans didn’t want the Europeans to solve the all-important nuclear issue on their own, and therefore worked to derail the negotiations between Iran and European representatives.
Rouhani then proceeded to discuss the Iran-Saudi Arabia relations and the stance taken by Arab countries on the nuclear talks. He noted that all members of the Iranian leadership fully agreed that Iran needs good relations with Saudi Arabia. In 1998 Rouhani went to Riyadh for the first time and reached an agreement with the Saudis. He went to Saudi Arabia for the second time in 2005 and reached an agreement on the establishment of four joint Iranian-Saudi Arab committees. When he vacated his position in the Supreme National Security Council, the contacts with Saudi Arabia stopped, Rouhani said, and in the end no committee was established. He noted that the Arabs attempted to sabotage the negotiations between Iran and the West since they wanted to maintain a balance between Iran and the Arab world. After the Iraqi regime and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan were toppled, Iran’s position grew stronger, much to the displeasure of the Arabs. They therefore tried to step up pressure on Iran over the nuclear issue.
Rouhani also discussed a decision made during the Ahmadinejad administration to bring more countries into the nuclear talks, particularly Russia, China, Turkey, and Brazil. He said that he was not in favor of bringing Russia and China into the negotiations, since the Russians, too, wouldn’t want to see Iran having its own nuclear fuel cycle. He didn’t believe that the nuclear problem could be solved with China and Russia’s help. The option of addressing Russia or China was never discussed by the Supreme National Security Council, Rouhani said, adding that the first time he heard about it was in a TV interview given by Ali Larijani, who succeeded him as chairman of the council. As for bringing Turkey and Brazil into the negotiations, Rouhani noted that he does not believe that Turkey can play a major role in the nuclear issue, and that Turkey’s involvement is a sensitive issue due to the fact of its being Iran’s neighbor and the need for a balance of power between the two countries. Brazil and South Africa, on the other hand, can actually help advance the negotiations.
Speaking about Iran’s relations with France, Rouhani said that, during Jacques Chirac’s presidency, France was looking to establish strategic ties with Iran. While Britain and Germany were saying that they were only interested in good relations with Iran, France wished to achieve higher-level relations due to the significance it places on the Persian Gulf and in view of Iran’s influence on developments in Syria and Lebanon, countries that are of particular importance for France. He related how the French had thanked Iran after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah prevented his supporters from shouting slogans against France during a speech he gave at a major conference in Lebanon.
Rouhani discussed the 2005 launch of the uranium conversion facility in Esfahan and its impact on the nuclear negotiations. He noted that Iran warned the Europeans in advance about its intent to launch the facility, and was surprised by the West’s strong reaction when the launch finally took place.
According to Rouhani, Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh, the former chairman of Iran’s Nuclear Energy Organization, had reservations about the Paris agreement signed between Iran and the West, and voiced his reservations to the Supreme Leader. Rouhani noted that it was natural for the Nuclear Energy Organization to take that position, as it sought to make progress with the nuclear program and didn’t want to see it halted for any reason. The organization leaders wished to prove that the nuclear scientists could move ahead with the program, since there were many, including university physics experts, who claimed that the program was unfeasible.
The Iranians were surprised when the nuclear dossier was referred to the Security Council after the launch of the Esfahan facility, Rouhani said. He noted that he doesn’t know what would have happened if Iran had believed that the issue would be referred to the Security Council, arguing, however, that top officials were in agreement that the activity in Esfahan and Natanz would have to be resumed eventually.
Speaking about the government’s involvement in setting the nuclear strategy, Rouhani said that the government does not shape the overall nuclear policy and that there are principles decided above the government level. The government, however, has an important role in managing the nuclear policy, and a change of government may lead to a change in strategy, not only in tactics. He argued that while there were no considerable differences between the Khatami and Rafsanjani administrations, Ahmadinejad’s government pursued a much different course. Rouhani stressed, however, that the decision to launch the Esfahan facility was made at the end of the Khatami administration. The first time that the Supreme Leader issued an instruction to launch the conversion facility in Esfahan was on April 26, 2005, according to Rouhani. The decision remained even after Rouhani explained to Khamenei its domestic and foreign implications. After the decision was made, Rouhani informed the Europeans in London, and they expressed no actual objections to the launch of the facility. Britain’s then Foreign Minister Jack Straw traveled to Washington to get the Americans to agree to an arrangement with the Iranians. The Americans claimed that there was no point in reaching an agreement with the outgoing Iranian government and wanted to wait and see which president would be elected next.
At the end of the interview Rouhani also discussed the domestic differences of opinion on the nuclear issue. He claimed that the first to visit the nuclear facilities was former prime minister and current opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a fact that reflects the existing consensus in Iran on the nuclear program. He said that even if another president is elected, Iran’s position on nuclear technology will not change. Domestic differences of opinion arise only over the desired pace of progress.
He stressed the need for coordination between the nuclear negotiating teams and the government. While it is the Supreme Leader who makes the decisions, the negotiating team needs to be in sync with the government, since the government has an important role in formulating foreign policy and the negotiations have repercussions the government has to deal with. That is the reason why, as soon as the most minor differences of opinion emerged between Ahmadinejad and Larijani, Larijani had to step down even though it was Ahmadinejad who had appointed him. Rouhani said that, after the 2005 elections, he asked the Supreme Leader for permission to resign his position as chairman of the Supreme National Security Council, claiming that the position required him to have complete mutual trust with the president, the kind of trust he had had with Rafsanjani and Khatami. Rouhani told Khamenei that, since he didn’t know President Ahmadinejad and the president didn’t know him, he could not retain his post, and the Supreme Leader accepted his argument (Supreme National Security Council Research Center website, www.csr.ir/Center.aspx?lng=fa&subid=-1&cntid=2497, May 7).
In addition to the interview, last weekend the daily Tehran Emrouz published an excerpt from Rouhani’s book about his first meeting with Ahmadinejad shortly after the latter became president in 2005. Rouhani said that, two days before the IAEA Board of Governors meeting scheduled for August 9, 2005, Ahmadinejad summoned him and inquired about the reason for the special Board of Governors meeting. Rouhani replied that the board was going to discuss the launch of the facility in Esfahan. Ahmadinejad said that the IAEA had no right to discuss the issue, and instructed Rouhani to bring it up in a conversation with IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei. Rouhani told the president that ElBaradei did not decide upon every issue pertaining to the IAEA, and that the Board of Governors of the agency consisted of ambassadors from 35 countries whose decision was based on the director general’s report.
Having discussed the Western influence on the IAEA, the president asked Rouhani about its cause. Rouhani answered by saying that it had to do with the fact that most of the IAEA’s budget came from Western countries. In response, Ahmadinejad instructed him to call ElBaradei and say that from now on Iran will cover the entire budget of the agency. Rouhani said that this was impossible since the IAEA followed certain rules and would not agree to such a proposal, and because it would require the approval of the Majles.
This response angered the president, who said that this was none of Rouhani’s concern. Rouhani refused to comply with the president’s instructions and told him to speak to ElBaradei himself if that’s what he had in mind. He asked the president whether he had called him to hear his advice or to give his own advice on the nuclear issue. He told Ahmadinejad that, if he wanted to issue instructions without consulting him first, he had better appoint a new chairman for the Supreme National Security Council. At the end of the meeting, Rouhani informed Ali Larijani that he had better start preparing for his new position as secretary (Tehran Emrouz, May 10).
Persian Gulf tensions escalate: Iran reacts strongly to Saudi Arabia-Bahrain union initiative
The initiative to establish a new political union between Persian Gulf countries, primarily Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, drew strong reactions from Iran this week. On Monday, May 14, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders convened in Riyadh to discuss a schedule for the establishment of the new political bloc.
In response to the initiative, Majles members released a special announcement strongly condemning the plan. Signed by 190 Majles members, the announcement said that the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain should know that their plan will bring the Bahrainis closer together against the forces of occupation in their country and lead to the spread of the popular uprising from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. According to the Majles members, the plan will destabilize the region and exacerbate existing problems. They expressed their support for the 15-month-long uprising of the Bahraini people and for maintaining the independence and territorial integrity of their country (Fars, May 14).
Majles Speaker Ali Larijani said during a Majles meeting that Saudi Arabia will have a hard time swallowing Bahrain, and that the conduct of the two countries will have a negative impact on both. Majles member Hossein-Ali Shahriari mentioned during the meeting that Bahrain was considered Iran’s 14th province until 1961, at which point it became an independent country because of “the Shah’s treason”. If there’s any country Bahrain needs to form a union with, the Majles member said, it’s Iran, not Saudi Arabia (Mehr, May 14).
Media in Iran also harshly criticized the Saudi Arabia-Bahrain union plan and extensively reported on opposition to the plan among the people of Bahrain, saying it is a threat to that country’s independence and sovereignty. The Tabnak website argued that Saudi Arabia has been seeking to swallow Bahrain for years, and warned that Iran, which never got involved in developments in Bahrain and was content with “morally supporting” the Shi’ite uprising there, will not be able to allow the Saudis to change the regional status quo. The union plan, formulated with the approval of the United States and Britain, is a threat to Iran’s national security, Tabnak said, and Iran will not be able to remain silent. Experience shows, according to the website, that the only language the Arabs understand is the language of power (Tabnak, May 14).
The daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami also strongly condemned the union plan, saying that it is a dangerous conspiracy to save the rulers of Bahrain from the popular uprising of their people. An editorial titled “The octopus attempts to swallow Bahrain” said that there is no doubt that the Saudi conspiracy will be met with considerable resistance, both from other Persian Gulf states concerned about being swallowed up by Saudi Arabia and by the people of Bahrain. The plan has no legal foundation and its only objective is to guarantee the survival of the rulers of Bahrain. The daily estimated that the union attempts between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain will make Bahrainis more determined to topple the Al Khalifa family. Not only will the Saudi plan prove unable to prevent the fall of Bahrain’s tyrannical regime, it will lead to the spread of the popular uprising to Saudi Arabia and exacerbate the woes of the Saudi regime (Jomhuri-ye Eslami, May 14).
Iranhas historical territorial claims on Bahrain, and has insisted on its sovereignty over that territory ever since the islands of Bahrain were under Persian rule (1602-1782). When in 1968 Britain announced its plan to withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf in 1971, Iran renewed its push for sovereignty over Bahrain. After a U.N.-sponsored referendum held in 1970, in which most Bahrainis decided in favor of independence, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi dropped the issue but continued opposing the establishment of American military bases on Bahraini soil. After the Islamic revolution the Iranian authorities once again brought up their claims and resumed their subversive activity in Bahrain, taking advantage of the fact that most of the island’s population is Shi’ite Muslim. A considerable improvement in the relations between the two countries took place during the administration of President Mohammad Khatami, who in 2003 became the first Iranian president to come on an official visit to Bahrain.
And yet, Iran’s claim to its Arab neighbor keeps surfacing every once in a while in public statements made by Iranian officials. In the summer of 2007 Keyhan’s editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari provoked a serious crisis in the relations between the two countries by claiming that Bahrain was an Iranian province separated from Iran by an illegal agreement signed between the Shah and the governments of the United States and Britain, and that Bahrainis, too, wished to be reintegrated into Iran. A similar statement was made in 2009 by Ali-Akbar Nateq Nouri, the Supreme Leader’s advisor, who referred to Bahrain as Iran’s 14th province. The popular riots that broke out in Bahrain in February 2011 once again widened the rift between Iran and Arab Persian Gulf countries, which accused Iran of meddling in Bahrain’s Shi’ite uprising.
Salman Rushdie affair, 2012 version: Shahin Najafi and the song that angered Shi’ite clerics
The life of Shahin Najafi, an Iranian artist, singer, and rapper who lives in Germany for the past several years, is under threat after a controversial song he released recently has sparked demands for his execution in Iran.
The song Naghi, released on YouTube, deals with a variety of social and political problems facing Iran, including the economic sanctions, corruption, political suppression, and the powerlessness of the Iranian opposition. In the song, Najafi calls on the Tenth Imam, Ali al-Hadi (also referred to as Ali al-Naghi) to reappear and solve these problems instead of the Twelfth Imam—the Vanished Imam. According to religious circles in Iran, the song is an offense to the Tenth Imam, considered in Shi’ite tradition to be the grandfather of the Twelfth Imam. The image that appears in the YouTube video of the song also provoked anger from the clerics. It features a mosque resembling the tomb of Reza, the Eighth Imam, in the city of Mashhad, with its dome shaped like a female breast and the rainbow flag flying on top.
The inspiration for Najafi’s new song was apparently a satirical Facebook page created in May 2011, titled “The campaign for the commemoration of Imam al-Naghi for Shi’ites” (http://www.facebook.com/Emam.Naghi). The page, which currently has over 17,000 “likes”, satirizes and criticizes Shi’ite beliefs, particularly those pertaining to Shi’ite imams.
When asked to comment on the status of those who offend the imam in Islamic religious law, the two top clerics Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani and Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi ruled recently that anyone who offends Shi’ite imams is an infidel (Fars, May 9; May 13).
Fars News Agency reported that the release of Najafi’s new song sparked a public online campaign for his execution. Those behind the campaign have called on all Shi’ites and Muslims to track down Najafi, execute him, and “send him to hell” under clause 513 of Iran’s criminal code, which calls for execution for anyone who offends the sanctity of Islam and the prophets, Shi’ite imams, and Prophet Muhammad’s daughter (Fars, May 9). The Shi’a Online website also demanded that the singer be executed for blasphemy and even offered a $100,000 reward for his killing. The website reported that the reward will be sponsored by a wealthy individual from one of the Persian Gulf states (Shi’a Online, May 10). The campaign surrounding Najafi’s song also expanded into Facebook. A number of Facebook pages created during the week call for his elimination, while Najafi’s own Facebook page was bombarded with comments from well-wishers and haters alike.
In an interview given to BBC Persian following the controversy sparked by his song, the singer said that he had no intention of offending the Shi’ite imams. He added, though, that as an artist he is not particularly concerned with the meaning that emerges from his musical creations. Najafi, born in 1980, moved to Germany in 2005 due to restrictions imposed by the Iranian authorities on his musical activity. He writes and performs songs touching upon a variety of political and social issues. In 2009 he released the single Neda to commemorate Neda Agha Soltan, who died in the riots that broke out after the last presidential elections.
New restrictions on use of foreign email servers
Last week Telecommunications Minister Reza Taqipour issued a series of instructions imposing new restrictions on the use of foreign email servers, including Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, and MSN. A letter sent by the minister to Mahmoud Bahmani, the governor of Iran’s Central Bank, instructed the governor to prohibit all commercial banks in Iran from sending emails to addresses linked to foreign email servers or receiving emails sent from such addresses.
Similar instructions were sent to insurance companies, cellular telephone operators, universities, and other government companies. A letter sent by the telecommunications minister to Mohammad Karampour, the head of the Radio Communications and Regulations Organization, said that the instructions apply to all government ministries, universities, and government companies. In his letter the minister noted that public email is used to send information out of the country, which is why the use of foreign email servers has to be banned. According to the minister’s instructions, government institutions will be able to send and receive email only to and from domains featured on a list of Iranian-based email service providers. Under the new instructions, customers of banks, cellular telephone operators, and so forth will not be able to receive their bills or contact these institutions by email unless they open a new email address on a domestic email server (http://www.irwebnews.com/foreign-email-use-prohibited-in-bank.html, May 10).
In addition, the telecommunications minister instructed all government ministries and government organizations to only use websites in the .ir top-level domain. A message sent to all government apparatuses said that the use of the Iranian extension is now obligatory for all government institutions. Government ministries and their affiliated independent organizations will be required to use the gov.ir extension, non-government organizations and institutions such as municipalities and trade unions will be required to use the org.ir extension, universities and higher education institutions will use ac.ir, and schools will use sch.ir (Fars, May 8).
Mehr News Agency reported this week (May 13) that 20,000 Iranians have so far joined Chapar, an Iranian-based email service provider. It was recently recognized by the Information Technology Organization as one of the providers whose email services can be used. Following the ban on the use of foreign email service providers, the organization announced that the email services offered by the following websites are permitted: http://mail.iran.ir/Mail, http://mail.post.ir, and https://www.chmail.ir.
The minister’s instructions, which make it highly difficult for Iranians to interact with government institutions and organizations, have already drawn strong criticism. Ali Motahari, chairman of the Majles Telecommunications Committee, said this week that the minister’s instructions prohibiting the use of foreign email servers are illegal, and that his instructions requiring the use of the .ir top-level domain can be considered as mere recommendation. The only ones qualified to issue such instructions are the Supreme Cyber Council and the Majles, he said (ILNA, May 12).
Some media also criticized the instructions issued by the telecommunications minister. The Khabar Online website had reservations about the instructions, saying that they negatively impact customers of banks and other government services. Even though Iranians haven’t actually been obliged to use Iranian-based email services, the website said, that’s just what the Telecommunications Ministry’s instructions mean, since people will be forced to connect to domestic email servers to contact banks and other government institutions (Khabar Online, May 10).
The reformist daily Shargh also argued that the instructions issued by the telecommunications minister are inappropriate. An editorial published by the daily said that the Telecommunications Ministry has yet to define the meaning of “national email”, mobilize the private sector for supporting the efforts to establish a domestic email network, get the public to trust domestic email services, and inform the public about these services.
The interest to safeguard the information of customers of banks, insurance companies, and other government companies is perfectly obvious, the article said, but the people need encouragement to move to domestic email services before releasing instructions banning the use of foreign email servers. Instead of banning such servers, the government needs to apply gradual measures to ease the transition to domestic email services, encourage the public to connect to government services through domestic servers, provide the appropriate technological infrastructure, and take all the necessary measures, which include licensing, creating a support company, acquiring international certificates, and carrying out testing. Only then will it be reasonable to publish instructions banning foreign email servers (Shargh, May 10).
The new instructions intended to encourage Iranians to open domestic email accounts are part of the national effort to promote an internal national internet network and separate email services. The establishment of a separate national network is considered one of the government projects designed to provide the regime with a greater ability to control and monitor internet traffic. In addition, in the past two years Telecommunications Ministry officials have announced that the authorities intend to launch separate email services as well as a national search engine to function as a substitute for its international counterparts.
This February the Iranian authorities blocked access to Google and Yahoo, including their email services. In recent months Iranian top officials have repeatedly stressed that these services are used by the enemies of Iran to gather information on happenings in the country.