On July 31, 19 days into a strike, workers from the Haft Tappe sugarcane processing plant in southwest Iran took to the streets. The focus of their strike was delayed wages and poor working conditions. But they were also protesting against the Islamic Republic’s latest effort for curtailing online freedoms. “They fear the internet [since] they back the corrupt,” marching workers chanted in Khuzestan Province, southwest Iran.

The workers were reacting to the Iranian parliament’s decision to fast-track the introduction of a bill dubbed Cyberspace Users Rights Protection and Regulation of Key Online Services, widely referred to as the Protection Bill. (It’s available here in Persian.) If implemented, the bill—which has been in the making since 2018—is expected to curb access to the internet, invade users’ privacy, infringe net neutrality, and suppress freedom of speech in Iran. For years, Iran has been seen as constantly trying to emulate the more extreme censorship regimes of Russia and China. This bill would help the Islamic Republic set a new standard for other authoritarian states to follow.

Three days before the Haft Tappe demonstration, the Iranian members of parliament voted 121 to 74 in favor of invoking Article 85 of the Islamic Republic constitution to review and experimentally implement the bill. First, a select few MPs will review the legislation for two months behind closed doors, then they will send it to the Guardian Council—Iran’s constitutional watchdog—to be ratified. If it gets the greenlight from the Guardian Council, it will be “experimentally” enforced for up to five years, and later can be permanently ratified into law.

The internet is already heavily censored in Iran, which has about 57.4 million internet users in a total population of about 82 million. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been banned in Iran since 2009. Telegram, which has 49 million users in Iran, has been banned since 2018. Furthermore, over the past few months, the state has used throttling to disrupt access to WhatsApp, Instagram, and Clubhouse. WhatsApp and Instagram are respectively used by 50 million and 47 million people in Iran.

Source » iranbriefing