TEHRAN, Iran—In an announcement that should send a chill up the spine of all Iranians in country, but especially Iranian youth, a senior official of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps told a meeting of fellow commanders last Friday that a study by the IRGC's Cyber Army on internet usage on Ashura—a Shia day of mourning commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad—showed a veritable flood of traffic to so-called “immoral sites.”
The internet usage results, which should be taken with many grains of salt, was culled not just from purported internet traffic within the country, but from countries around the world. According to the semi-official Fars news agency, deputy IRGC Intelligence chief Ebrahim Bayani said, “Based on some figures regarding the use of immoral websites by web users during noon on Ashura, among 182 countries, Tehran ranked first and Shiraz was in 15th place.”
The exact types of immoral destination to which Bavani was referring remains vague because he declined to name specific sites, but they probably include porn sites in addition to many other types of sites deemed immoral by the Iranian government and the Revolutionary Guard, which was active in the brutal crackdown on Iranian citizens protesting election results in 2009. During the Green Movement protests, social media and other technologies were used by protesters to coordinate movements and also to let the outside world know what was going on, despite efforts by the authorities to impede such communication by shutting down networks.
The underlying purpose of the announcement by Bavani is unclear, but internal Iranian politics being what it is, the somewhat odd announcement regarding internet usage on one particular day could be another manifestation of the power struggle apparently underway between Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, with the Guard’s ultimate fealty up in the air at this point in time.
Bavani also was quoted as posing a rhetorical question that with traffic figures this “shocking,” how can Iranian youth be expected to go to the mosque and practice religion? He also reportedly accused Iran’s enemies (i.e. the West) of “using ‘cultural tools,’ including pornographic websites and satellite channels [which he said are growing like mushrooms], to distance people from religion and damage the establishment.”
According to the Radio Free Europe “Persian Letters” blog written by Golnaz Esfandiari, Bavani’s comments have been removed from the Farsnews website, though screen grabs were obtained by bloggers before the apparent reconsideration, which in and of itself could indicate an unusual level of sensitivity regarding such a blanket and nebulous condemnation of the Iranian public’s internet usage.