Iranian minister for Information and Communications Technology, Reza Taghipour, denied news reports about the government's plan to block the Internet and deny millions of people access to the World Wide Web. However, despite the denial, there is no proof that Tehran has shelved its plans to establish a national network to replace the free Internet.
Taghipour's rebuttal came in the wake of news reports that said Iran was pushing ahead with its clean Internet plan and that it would set up a national Intranet that effectively blocks foreign sites like Google, Gmail, Google Plus, Yahoo and Hotmail.
Iran vehemently denied the report and called it a hoax that served the propaganda wing of the west. The communications ministry said the news originated from a fake statement published on Iranian sites on April 1, ascribing the view to Taghipour.
The report is in no way confirmed by the ministry and is completely baseless, a ministry statement said Tuesday, according to AFP.
However, Taghipour's denial appears less than convincing as the AFP report maintains that Iran does have plans to establish a national information network billed as a totally closed system that would function like a sort of intranet for the Islamic republic.
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A background check on Iran's Internet censorship track record also goes to prove that it has long been regarded as one of the Enemies of the Internet.
A report published in March 2011 by Reporters Without Borders, an international NGO that defends press freedom and fights against censorship, said Internet service providers in Iran were already leasing bandwidth to the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI), controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, who are responsible for ordering the blocking of websites. Although the authorities boast that they have blocked hundreds of thousands of websites, it is certain that thousands of them and millions of associated pages are now inaccessible in Iran, the report said.
Taghipour was added to the European Union sanctions list (PDF) on March 23, due to his involvement in censoring and locally suspending the Internet.
Further, the sites, khabarnegaran.info and Kaleme.com, which originally published Taghipour's statements, posted them on March 25 and April 5 respectively, and not on April 1, as the ministry has claimed.
Khabarnegaran Iran, an Iranian news site launched in 2009, is part of Iranian journalists' resistance to the government repression and propaganda, Reporters Without Borders said in a statement in February, when it announced its support to the site. Kaleme is known as a reformist website. Both these sites have been targeted by the Iranian government entities in the past. These sites, which operate for press freedom in Iran, would be at the risk of losing international support by running fabricated statements, making it hard to believe the ministry's claim.
As was reported earlier, Iranian government has already started the registration procedure for procuring Iran Mail ID, which mandates authentic information pertaining to a person's identity, including national ID, address and full name. Registration will be approved only after verifying it against the government data on the particular applicant.
Analyzing Taghipour's denial, it becomes clear that the government is only denying the plans to replace Internet with national Intranet. What is still unclear is how comprehensive the censorship is going to be.
As mentioned in the IB Times report, external sites will still be available in Iran: Foreign sites can still be accessed over the Intranet provided they are mentioned in a white list set up by the government. It will be like a censored corporate internet as mentioned in the story.
Technically speaking Internet will still be there, though it would be an amputated ghost of the Internet as we know it. Regardless of whether Taghipour's statement was only an effort to remedy an uncomfortable situation or a genuine denial, the only question that remains is when and to what extend will Iran cripple Internet.