Rights groups urge Iran to keep Internet open during vote

Rights groups urge Iran to keep Internet open, secure during election
2 min read
18 June, 2021
The #KeepItOn coalition has called on Iran to keep the internet functioning during the election and allow for any abuses to be recorded.
Iran has previously turned the internet off during protests [Getty]

An open letter addressed to the Supreme Leader of Iran and the President of Iran has called for the Internet and all social media platforms to remain “open, secure, and accessible throughout the presidential election period”.

The open letter is signed by the #KeepItOn coalition, a group made up of 258 organisations from 106 countries, which endeavour to end internet shutdowns

Among those signing the letter are: the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Human Rights Activists in Iran, Human Rights Watch, Impact Iran, and Project on Middle East Democracy. 

In their letter, the coalition highlights Iran’s poor record of human rights and the need to keep the internet open to allow such abuses to be recorded. 

“The internet, social media platforms, and messaging apps play a critical role in providing a space for expression, deliberation, dissent, protest, and activism in any society, especially in contexts like Iran,” the letter reads. 

Iran on Friday votes for a new president to replace Hassan Rouhani. Hardliner and head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, is widely anticipated to win, although a low turnout is also expected. 

Noting Iran’s history of internet shutdowns and online censorship, the letter’s signatories urge Tehran to allow poll watchers and members of the media to report freely. 

“Journalists, human rights defenders, election observers, civil society actors, and other relevant stakeholders, rely on accessible internet to monitor and report on elections,” they said.

The letter singled out the protests in November 2019 and the protests in Sistan and Baluchistan in February 2021 as times when the government has shutdown the internet. 

“It is essential for the government to adopt measures to ensure free access to information and communication platforms, and ensure “just-in-time censorship” is not implemented during moments of heightened political tensions — like elections,” the letter reads. 

Perspectives

The letter also notes that Iran has ratified the legally-binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which “provide for the protection and promotion of the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, assembly, and access to information, both offline and online.”

The letter goes on to call on telecom companies to observe their obligation to uphold human rights and “prevent or mitigate potential harms, and provide remedy for harms they cause or contribute to.”

The letter sets out a number of recommendations, including an end to the arbitrary blocking of social media platforms and VPN connections, for high speed internet to remain accessible, and for internet service providers to inform users of any potential outages and to take step to fix any disruptions.