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Cyberspace unites over Beheshti's death; Iranians try Bitcoin digital currency; Flagpoles used for satellite jamming?; Soft War HQ with new 'battalions'
Arrested on October 30 by the Cyber Police of Iran (Polic-e FATA), blogger Sattar Beheshti was killed less than four days later. The news of his death was first published on opposition websites close to the Green Movement, and then spread to other media outlets. Despite the initial difficulties obtaining official confirmation of the news, it quickly became one of the top news headlines in the media and across social networking sites and blogs. Combined with the increased pressure from the international community, the sustained attention across the Iranian media and political spectrum forced an official investigation.
The exchange rate of Iran’s Rial has dropped drastically in recent months due to U.S. sanctions, driving the price down to record lows. As the price of the Rial drops, Iranians are looking for a way to secure foreign currency. The digital currency Bitcoin, which is accepted worldwide and resides in banks internationally, may very well be one way around the currency crisis.
As anyone with a computer and internet connection (no matter how limited) is able to “own, send, and receive [Bitcoin],” according to Jon Matonis, founding board member of the U.S. based Bitcoin Foundation, “You can be at an Internet cafe in Iran and [manage] a bitcoin account.” Taking into account the added anonymity that comes along with the use of virtual private networks, Iranian citizens are able to conduct business safely and securely.
Privacy can be a double-edged sword, however. According to an April FBI report, “[As] Bitcoin does not have a centralized authority, law enforcement faces difficulties detecting suspicious activity, identifying users, and obtaining transaction records—problems that might attract malicious actors to Bitcoin”
While the exact number of Iranians using Bitcoin is still unclear, local and online retailers are beginning to notice interest in the new transnational currency. Even Iranians abroad are taking advantage of the service, as many “send bitcoins to their families,” who can hopefully find someone willing to exchange them for more tangible fare.
According to a report by Fox News, Iranian residents and communications experts have noticed a recent rise in satellite jamming coinciding with an increase in “the strategic placement of the towering metal flagpoles.”
Tehran-based blogger Shahin noticed a jump in the number of reported “telecommunications masts” since post-election uprisings in 2009, which he feels Iran is using to block signals in addition to traditional satellite to satellite jamming. Those uprisings saw a major increase in the use of online social networks to organize opposition to the ruling regime. One which has tried desperately since to “control what comes in and out of the country...” and to directly police online dialogue.
Austin Heap of the Censorship Research Center adds, that “the shape of the flagpole lends itself to house such a [technology]... the width of the pole [decreases] as it gets taller,” which he says is in line with “design principles for good omni-directional broadcasting… It’s a kill switch.”
Controversies over the film I am a Mother have not ended with gatherings in front of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. A complaint was filed against the director of the Iran Cinema Organization, the film’s producer, and its director by Ansar Hezbollah. The movie is currently under review with the judiciary. Responding to the controversy, the director and producer of I am a Mother explained that the film attempts to challenge a certain lifestyle, and the content is not un-Islamic. They also invited critics to watch the film first before criticizing and decrying the film. Several Iranian officials have also reacted to this film over the past week.
According to Mehdi Azimi Mirabadi, the manager of the Office of Monitoring and Evaluation, I am a Mother obtained the necessary screening permits, and the Ministry of Culture has no problems with the screening of this film. However, very recently, Mirabadi announced that following the decision of Supreme Council of Screening, some changes have been suggested to the movie producer, and will be reflected in the movie. Hossein Mesgarani, Culture Deputy of Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance General Directorate of Razavi Khorsan Province, stated that I am a Mother does not have screening permits for provinces outside of Tehran. Mesgarani urged filmmakers to consult with scholars and religious experts to prevent negative consequences for other movie projects.
The joint chiefs of staff of Iran’s armed forces have established a new ‘soft war’ headquarters to counter threats from Israel and the US, particularly in cyberspace, the Iranian media reported on Saturday.
The Deputy Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces for Cultural Affairs and Defense, Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri said that Iran’s enemies were ‘very serious’ in their ‘soft war’ efforts against the Islamic Republic, according to Sepah News, the official public relations site of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “Therefore, we too must develop an organized means to address the fight with the enemy in this arena,” Jazayeri said. He made his comments to a gathering of military personnel at a conference organized by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Basij Cyber Battalions in Tehran, the aim of which was to equip and mobilize Iran’s national media to combat what Tehran sees as the “soft war” threat, according to a report by IRIB itself.
Attending the conference were IRIB cyber space experts and members of Iran’s Cyber Council Committee and the Basij voluntary militia, IRIB reported. The Cyber Council Committee comprises seven “battalions” – politics, culture, social concerns, media, economics, women’s issues and Islamic jurisprudence – each of which deals with issues “targeted by the West in its soft-war against Iran,” IRIB said.
The Fars News Agency reported on Saturday that following the judicial probe into Beheshti's case, Mohammad Hassan Shokrian, the head of the Greater Tehran Cyber Police, was removed from his position by the order of Commander Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam.
The reason for the dismissal has been cited as "shortcomings and weakness in adequate supervision over the performance of those under his command and failure to submit the deceased to appropriate legal proceedings."
Production of the new film Laleh has not stopped, but the project’s foreign sponsors have cut their financial supports due to sanctions against Iran, and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The film's producer Agha Mohammadian added that the project will seek new sponsors from neighbouring countries.
Over 100 authors have written a statement in opposition to the government’s censorship rules, which they believe “lowers the dignity of authors and damages public trust in them and their books.” In the statement, authors maintain that Iran is one of the few countries where authors have to receive government approval to publish their books.