While the Islamic Republic is issuing harsh sentences for protesters, its government branches are stealthily setting new restrictions on free speech.
The Association of Iranian Journalists expressed concern on Thursday that the administration of President Ebrahim Raisi is coordinating with the parliament to secretly pass bills that would restrict the activities of citizen journalists and criminalize any reporting deemed critical of the regime.
The plan that the members of parliament are pushing forward is cunningly titled “legal and judicial action against the spread of fake news in cyberspace” and the administration is simultaneously devising a bill called “the comprehensive bill of journalism.”
The association claims that they have not released the full texts, noting that by keeping regulations hidden from experts and journalists, they seek to prevent others from critiquing the measures.
Since there is no due process of law in Iranian courts for political trials, the government would be free to categorize even a simple tweet as a criminal act and issue a harsh verdict.
Culture Minister Mohammad Mehdi Esmaeili earlier announced that the bill had been approved by the government's cultural committee and would be sent to the parliament after the cabinet's review.
In its statement, the association of journalists described the measures as “in line with the intensification of restrictions on the flow of information in professional media and cyber sphere,” adding that they violate the rights and freedom of journalists.
The entrance of the Association of Iranian Journalists
The parliament is trying to pass the new plan as part of regulations that would enable the authorities to execute anyone who speaks or sends images to foreign media outlets. Since the current wave of protests began following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, the authorities have been trying to restrict the spread of information both within the country and from inside the country to the international community.
The plan “to intensify the punishment of collaborators with the actions of hostile countries against national security and interests” describes any cooperation with “hostile countries, including the US government” as espionage. It considers any such cooperation as “corruption on earth,” which is punishable by death according to the Islamic Republic's Penal Code.
According to Article 286 of the Constitution, any serious disturbance in the public order, causing insecurity or major damage to people or public and private property, or spread of corruption or prostitution on a large scale, is considered a ‘corruption on earth’ offense and will lead to a death sentence.
Mobile phones and the Internet made it possible for citizens to record acts of violence and brutality by security forces, which was not possible two decades ago. This has exposed violations of citizens’ rights and has worried the Islamic Republic. A committee, comprised of representatives from Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Intelligence Ministry, Army and parliament’s National Security Committee, is tasked with determining those who are subject to the new law.
When finalized, the legislation would help the hardliner Judiciary to issue death sentences for anyone contacting foreign-based media. Not that the regime does have any reservations about issuing harsh verdicts to the protesters.
The US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said on Thursday that a court in the North Khorasan province has issued a one-year sentence for 40 people arrested during protests on charges of "propaganda against the regime and spreading lies". According to HRANA, some of the convicted people are juveniles, adding that their average age is between 16 and 20 years old.
The regime has already been describing the realities on the ground as “lies” and “conspiracies” instigated by foreign countries, but the new regulations would give them extra pretexts to prosecute citizens and journalists.