Iran Sets Up Council To Monitor Internet

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – On Wednesday, 7 March, Ayatollah Ali Kahamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, created the Supreme Council of Virtual Space to oversee the domestic and international internet usage.  Iran’s state television reported Ayatollah Khamenei declared he was “establishing a center of national virtual space to define policy and co-ordinate and make decisions regarding virtual space.”

An example of a site that the Iranian Cyber Army Hacked. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Reporters Without Borders, a free-speech lobby group, noted that Iran has blocked websites and filtered keywords to censor the internet.  However, the formation of this council is Iran’s strongest initiative to regulate the internet.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will head the council composed the president of the parliament, the head of Iran’s judiciary, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, the director of Iran’s broadcasting organization, the minister of information, and the commander of the Revolutionary Guard.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s degree stated the council will protect the country from “harm” resulting from “the increasing spread of information and communication technologies, particularly that of the global internet network and its important role in personal and social life.”  The council is also “responsible for safeguarding national and cultural values,” ensuring “safety of the internet,” and taking “measures to deal with challenges facing the national security and cultural values.”

Iran has previously tackled two particular cyber threats: computer viruses and “cultural invasion”.

Ayatollah Khamenei stated Iran will develop internet tools like Google to protect national security interests and so Iranians would not need to visit websites managed outside Iran.  In January, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, Iran’s police chief, described Google as an “instrument of espionage.”  In June, Iran plans to release its own search engine called “Yahaq” (meaning “Oh Lord”).

In 2010, the Revolutionary Guards created a “cyber army” to fight “destructive” networks.  The “cyber army” arrested hundreds of internet users.  The courts sentenced some of these users to death.  Iran also relies on special teams to execute “soft-war” counter-measures against the West.

Iranian authorities have blocked telephone lines and inducted internet slowdowns or disconnections during their recent increase of their surveillance and restrictions on the internet.  The authorities intensify their internet control specifically during times of political unrest.

Now, people must give their full names and show their identification to use an internet café monitored by the Iranian authorities.

This week, 30 million Iranians could not log into their Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail accounts.  An Iranian news agency credited Iran’s actions to prevent opposition against the upcoming celebration of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

For further information, please see:

Sydney Morning Herald – Iran’s Leader Sets Up Internet Control Group – 8 Mar 2012

BBC – Iran’s Supreme Leader Sets Up Body To Oversee Internet – 7 Mar 2012

Haartetz – Ahmadinejad Heads New Council To ‘ Safeguard’ Iranian Internet Values – 7 Mar 2012

Iran Focus – Iran Considers Cyberspace Council – 7 Mar 2012


Protests Against Impunity in Bulgaria

By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

SOFIA, Bulgaria – About two thousand protesters marched into Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia in anti-Roma protests.  Prejudices against Roma in Bulgaria and intolerance to daily crime and impunity after several serious incidents have triggered a series of national demonstrations that have increased ethnic tensions.  The nationalistic party, Ataka, held demonstrations protesting against the impunity of Roma.

Bulgarian nationalists shout slogans during an anti-Roma demonstration in Plovdivon Sunday as political leaders and security chiefs sought to calm tensions. (Photo courtesy of Hurriyet Daily News)
Bulgarian nationalists shout slogans during an anti-Roma demonstration in Plovdivon Sunday as political leaders and security chiefs sought to calm tensions. (Photo courtesy of Hurriyet Daily News)

There has been an increase in protests recently due to a death of a youth hit by a car driven by relatives of a Roma clan boss.  Following the accident, an angry crowd of roughly 2,000 people attacked three houses owned by the Roma leader in the village.  Smaller protests occurred in other towns the following week.

National Security Council President, Georgi Parvanov, called on political parties and the media to cease using hate speech.  He also announced that a Roma inclusion program would begin in November and was being funded by the European Union and the Bulgarian government.  The time could not have come any later, as opinion polls state that 69% of Bulgarians rule out the possibility of having Roma friends and 63% find it unacceptable to live in the same neighborhood as them.

Volen Siderov, Ataka’s far right candidate, is calling for the death penalty to be reinstated and for Roma “ghettos to be dismantled.”  The recent violence in Bulgaria has been called the worst since the violence that took place in 1997.

This violence demonstrates the struggles of the Bulgarian country.  Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union.  Roma makes up only 5% of the population in Bulgaria. The attacks triggered worries that Bulgarian Turks, the county’s largest minority at almost 10%, will also become subject to attacks.  As of now, a great majority of the attacks have been directed only at the Roma.

All of these protests and attacks come just three weeks before the Bulgarian presidential elections. Some fear that a few civil servants that are Bulgarian Turks will be forced to work for the governing party’s electoral campaign.  Roma Rangel Palamoudov stated that the nationalist parties are inciting young people to turn against them so they can win the election.

The Roma community lives mostly in depressed areas with higher rates of poverty and unemployment and lower levels of education than the national average. Public frustration against corruption, a growing gap between rich and poor and the weakness of the justice system has helped turn people against the Roma, as well as against Bulgaria’s Turkish minority.

The unemployment rate among Roma is 65% and as high as 80% in some other regions.  The prejudice and distorted perception of Roma coupled together with low levels of education make it extremely difficult for Roma to get jobs.  It is also believed that quality of education to Roma children is inferior to that afforded to other students.

For more information, please see:

Hurriyet Daily News – Turks Worry as Bulgarian Nationalists Rally Ahead of Polls – 3 October 2011

iFocus – European Press Review – 3 October 2011

BBC News – Bulgarian Rally links Roma to Organised Crime – 1 October 2011

Russian Human Rights Leader Detained for Second Time in Two Weeks

By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian human rights leader, Lev Ponomarev, 69, has been sentenced to administrative detention for the second time in two weeks.  The ruling came down yesterday after the Tverskoi District Court of Moscow found him guilty of “disobeying police orders.”  The city court handed Ponomarev the same verdict on August 25 for his first arrest, which came on August 22.  Ponomarev missed a scheduled meeting with senior member of the US National Security Council, Michel McFaul, today due to the sentence.

William Burns, the United States Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs who attended the meeting, was critical of the ruling.  “I should note that it is regrettable that Lev Ponomarev, who was supposed to be at the meeting, was not able to attend,” he said in remarks to the Interfax News Agency.  “The freedom of assembly is very important to the United States and very important for any democratic society.

The new ruling arises from Ponomarev’s participation in a peaceful anti-government protest, called “A Day of Rage,” in Tverskaya Square on August 12.  The hearing was delayed until yesterday due to health complications which sent Ponomarev to the hospital shortly after the August 12 arrest.

“A Day of Rage” was a rally where protesters demanded the resignation of Moscow’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, for interfering with freedom of assembly.  During the demonstration, two other individuals were arrested and charged with the same offense. While Ponomarev was undergoing medical treatment, those individuals served 3- and 4-day sentences, respectively.

Russian authorities allege that Ponomarev had “obstructed pedestrian traffic” by standing in the street while he spoke with journalists.  Other police officers added that Ponomarev resisted arrest by pushing an officer and stepping on the foot of another.

Ponomarev testified that officers treated him harshly, dragged him away, and threatened to hit him.  The Court found a video recording of the events to be inadmissible as evidence.

“We need to create a name-and-shame blacklist of judges and to make these public,” Ponomarev said.  He plans to appeal the ruling.

For more information, please see:

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH – Russia: Release Human Rights Defender – September 8, 2010

THE OTHER RUSSIA – U.S., Amnesty Intl. Criticize New Arrest Sentence for Ponomarev – September 8, 2010

ROBERT AMSERTDAM – Interview with Lev Ponomarev – August 30, 2010

BRIEF: Yemen releases USS Cole plotter

SANAA, Yemen – Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni man convicted of plotting the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, which resulted in the death of 17 US soldiers, was freed to house arrest by Yemen.  In 2004 he was sentenced to death for his role in plotting and carrying out the attack on the USS Cole.  This sentence was later commuted to 15 years imprisonment.

Badawi was one of 23 prisoners that escaped from jail in 2006.  He voluntarily turned himself in two weeks ago.  A Yemeni government official said that Badawi remains “under close scrutiny and control of security forces.”

National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe stated that “the United States is dismayed and deeply disappointed in the government of Yemen’s decision not to imprison Badawi.”  He claimed that Yemen’s action is inconsistent with the bilateral counterterrorism cooperation between the US and Yemen.

For more information, please see:

BBC – USS Cole plotter freed by Yemen – 27 October 2007

AHN – USS Cole bomb plotter in Yemen freed – 26 October 2007

Associated Press – US criticizes Yemen on terrorism – 26 October 2007

Reuters – Yemen grants house arrest to Cole attack planner – 26 October 2007