While forcing the Iranian people to hold Muharram mourning ceremonies amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the mullahs’ Supreme Leader held a solitary virtual mourning ceremony. But this did not prevent the mullahs from showing their growing concern about social media, the Iranian opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI or MEK) and a possible uprising.
A mullah called Nasser Rafie, who was supposed to mourn for the death of the third Shi’ite Imam Hussain-ibn Ali, instead expressed the regime’s utter fear of the Iranian opposition’s role in exposing the regime’s crimes and impact on the Iranian society on social media platforms. “Those people abroad, I have nothing to do with them. They are being paid in Albania [MEK’s complex] to spread lies and disappoint people,” he said while trying to discredit the Iranian regime’s viable and independent alternative.
His remarks show how vital yet terrifying the issue of social media platforms are for Khamenei and his regime. Khamenei has on several occasions personally expressed his concern about social media and satellite channels. In a meeting with cabinet ministers on August 23, he criticized Hassan Rouhani’s government for not creating a national intelligence network “out of schedule and the government’s reluctance to hold cyber council meetings.”
He also blatantly said that the cyberspace is being “managed and guided from abroad and we cannot leave people defenseless.” Obviously for the person who ordered his security forces “to do whatever it takes” to oppress people during major protests in November, which resulted in 1500 deaths, people’s wellbeing has no value, and by ‘people’ he means the mullahs’ regime.
In addition, recently some 40 members of the regime’s parliament submitted a bill to ban and filter all the social media applications in Iran and impose other restrictions on users. The bill authorized the identification of all users who use anti-filters to access websites which is considered a crime. The lawmakers also foolishly said these social media platforms should follow the Iranian regime’s rules and regulations
However, they failed to answer important questions: Why should international and independent social media platforms follow the regime’s rules? Why are the mullahs afraid of the cyberspace?
The regime’s fear is based on two issues. First the spread of truth and information among people and to the outside world, particularly the Iranian resistance. Secondly, the possibility for all the people to become connected to each other.
The Iranian regime, within the last four decades, has tried to conceal its crimes and its plundering of the people’s wealth. Therefore, the mullahs are afraid of the spread of information and truth among people because this might cause an explosion in the Iranian society. In addition, these revelation result in more defections among the regime’s forces. In this regard, Rafie on Saturday warned the regime’s forces of the “dangers of the cyberspace.” Mullah Ahmad Khatami, a member of the regime’s Expediency Council, recently said: Do you remember what cyberspace did during the 2018 [uprising]?
In addition, the regime is afraid that news of its crimes would reach the outside world. Hours after the nationwide Iran protests in November, the regime imposed an internet blackout to freely oppress the people.
Above all, the mullahs are terrified of the MEK and their connection with people inside Iran. In this regard, Rasoul Felahati, the regime’s Friday Prayer Leader in the city of Rasht, northern Iran, on Friday said: “They [MEK] use telephone and cyberspace to get connected to their sympathizers inside the country, and they are planning to make some moves in the upcoming months.”
In addition, the state-run Resalat daily on August 23 wrote: “The situation is not the same as two decades ago to control and manage incidents and news. The soft war era has started for years. On one side is the [regime] and on the other side are its enemies and opponents. This is much like the Iran-Iraq war with one slight difference: that was a hard war and this one is a soft war.”
But as the regime’s state-run media have acknowledged, this plan is destined to fail. “We should not repeat the same mistake in dealing with the internet as we did it in dealing with the satellite and videos. Those same restrictions should not be imposed, because we cannot fight the technology; it will find its way. We cannot build a wall across Iran,” wrote the state-run Hamdeli daily on August 23.
The regime is unable to control the restive Iranian society by simply restricting internet. In this regard, the state-run Etemad daily on August 23 wrote: “The outcome of this plan will be a copied social medial platform with no outcome. There will be no security [for the regime]. By imposing these restrictions, people will choose the streets to protest.”
Now, as for the international community, it should deter the regime’s actions in restricting people’s access to internet and prevent the regime from blocking people from reaching the outside world.