Soft War: A losing battle; Rouhani in defense of art; Ministry of Culture pressured by parliament; Press Supervisory Board on conservative publication closure

Soft War: A Losing Battle

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has long warned against the dangers of cultural assault and soft war against the ideals of the Islamic Republic. Actors within the Islamic Republic including Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Basij forces, and fundamentalist Ayatollahs have also utilized soft power and allocated significant budgets to this soft war. However, revolutionary hardliners are beginning to recognize that soft war efforts are looking futile. By ASL 19 for IMP

Rouhani: Art is Meaningless without Freedom

In a meeting with prominent artists, President Rouhani restated that his government is committed to providing an environment conducive to the production and promotion of art. Despite stressing that art and freedom are closely interconnected, the president noted that society decides what is socially acceptable before government censorship can occur and that customs, social ethics, and public opinion can limit artistic production.

Rouhani argued that the government should be more trusting of artists as they do not threaten the security of the country. He also said that he does not believe in state-sponsored art. Rouhani promised to reopen the Iranian National Orchestra in the following months, even if it brings more criticism from the Ministry of Culture.

Ministry of Culture on filtering and pressure from Parliament

Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati stated that although members of parliament (dominated by conservatives) have the right to inquire about the ministry’s policies, they cannot change the policies of “hope and prudence” of the current administration. Jannati stated he is confident in the new policies enacted by his ministry in consultation with academics, intellectuals, and prominent artists, despite pressure from parliament.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Jannati argued that 4 million Iranians are members of Facebook, and that “sooner or later this [filtering] restriction must be lifted.” He announced that the Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content (responsible for filtering policy) must modify its policies in order to accommodate some of the preferences of six members of the committee who are members of the government, which has emphasized its desire to reduce filters. Jannati also added that members who are part of ministries would meet in the following week to discuss the issue of filtering. Campaigns and advocacy coordinator of International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) Kristina Stockwood argued in an interview with the VOA Persian service that Iran is one of the top purchasers of modern filtering tools; however, the new government has shown interest in reducing restrictions to online content.

Comments on Press Supervisory Board’s decision to suspend conservative publication

Minister of Culture Ali Jannati supported Iran’s Press Supervisory Board’s January 6th decision to suspend Yalasarat al-Hussein, the weekly publication of the radical Islamist paramilitary group Ansar-e Hezbollah. Jannati explained that the publication was suspended for spreading lies and false information and for insulting the president, moderate and reformist government officials. Chief editor of reformist Etemaad, Elias Hazrati, criticized the move in a note to Jannati, arguing that banning publications should be a last resort for officials dealing with violations, because it eliminates a voice from society.

While the Ministry of Culture is committed to protecting freedom of the press, decisions on the banning of publications are made collectively by the members of the Press Supervisory Board, clarified Ali Jannati. In addition to Jannati, the board contains only one other member of the current administration: a representative from the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology. The other members of the Press Supervisory Board include a judge, a Majlis deputy, a managing director elected by members of the press, a seminary teacher elected by the Supreme Council of Qom Seminary, and a member of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.

Head of Tehran Cyber Police: Emails and Chat Messages Are Not Monitored

Tehran Cyber Police (FATA) Chief Mohammad Mehdi Kakvan claimed that FATA does not violate the privacy of individuals by monitoring the content of their emails or chat messages. Kakvan explained that FATA investigates cyberspace crime such as incidents of fishing, financial fraud, illegal bank account withdrawals (theft), morality crimes, and so on.

2013 in Review: Google and Wikipedia in Iran

According to Google, the top keywords searched by Iranians in 2013 included pornography, humor or satire, and the price of gold and cars. The Internet is one of the few sources through which Iranians can access pornographic material.

While the use of anti-filtering tools by Iranians, which enables users to change their IP address to a different location to access blocked content, might have skewed these results, Google seems to have developed methods to ascertain the actual preferences of users in Iran.

The articles most viewed on Persian Wikipedia in 2013 focused on President Hassan Rouhani, Iran, Wikipedia, the famous Iranian singer Googoosh, and Babak Zanjani, the Iranian billionaire businessman who was arrested after being accused of withholding state oil revenue.

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