Global backlash over Iran’s cyber battle against protesters

Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran on December 30, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2018
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Global backlash over Iran’s cyber battle against protesters

LONDON: The Iranian government may be rethinking its battle against online dissent after a global backlash against moves to curb the use of social media tools such as Telegram.
It follows fresh comments made by President Hassan Rouhani on Monday stating that he did not want to “permanently” restrict access to social media.
His remarks contradict earlier decisions made in December to block the picture-sharing app Instagram and the encrypted messaging app Telegram due to the belief they were fueling the protests that broke out on the streets of the country last month.
It follows widespread criticism of the move to curb access to social media tools used by the protesters.
Speaking to ministers on Monday, Rouhani said: “People’s access to cyberspace should not be cut permanently; one cannot be indifferent to people’s lives and businesses.
“Every technology can be abused by some; we cannot block the technology and the benefits that people are taking from it,” he added in comments published on the president’s official website.
Iran has had a strong grip over social media for many years, with Facebook and Twitter technically banned since 2009. However, many people have still managed to find a way to access the sites and even Rouhani opened his own Facebook page in 2013.
Holly Dagres, a former US State Department analyst who now runs The Iranist website, said: “The Iranian government tends to slow the Internet in times of big protests like 2009 and this past week’s protests. They also have censored Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. But that hasn’t stopped Iranians from using circumvention tools like VPNs to override the censorship. Iranians are professionals when it comes to circumvention, and though the government attempted to curb social media coverage of the protests, it hasn’t stopped Iranians from sharing information with the world.”
The messaging service Telegram has become one of the most popular social media tools in Iran in recent years, with an estimated 40 million Iranians using the product. Users can message each other via private and public channels.
The decision to block the app was due to Telegram’s refusal to shut down certain channels being used by protesters, according to a statement by the company’s CEO Pavel Durov on Dec. 31. He said at the time that it wasn’t clear whether the block was a permanent or temporary move.
The Iranian minister tweeted Durov late last month, accusing the channel of “encouraging hateful conduct.”
In his official statement, Durov countered such accusations, stating: “We are proud that Telegram is used by thousands of massive opposition channels all over the world. We consider freedom of speech an undeniable human right, and would rather get blocked in a country by its authorities than limit peaceful expression of alternative opinions.”
The messaging app did, however, suspend a public channel called @amadnews which it said had broken rules set out by Telegram which bans people using the app from making calls for violence.
The account had called for subscribers to use “molotov cocktails and firearms against police.”
According to Durov, the administrators for the channel apologized for breaking the rules and a “new peaceful channel” has been reinstated.
It may be too early to say if Rouhani’s comments signal a significant shift in Iran’s stance on social media, with no official confirmation that Telegram has been unblocked. Instagram has reportedly now been unblocked.
Instagram and Telegram did not reply to requests by Arab News for comment.
However some analysts see his remarks as an attempt to distance himself from more hard-line elements in the regime.
“The comments show that ​President Rouhani wants to create​ a clear distance between ​himself and his conservative critic​s, using the protests as a unique opportunity to pivot himself away from being the demonstrators’ target to becoming their champion for reform,” Ali Valez, the Washington-based director of the Iran Project, told Arab News.
There are also signs that pro-government supporters are starting to harness the power of social media in order to promote their own agenda.
One strategy being employed is the creation of Twitter bots which generate automatic content and followers. A BBC report published on Jan. 7 found that these accounts were being used to undermine tweets made by protesters, such as denying that a demonstration had taken place.
There are also continued reports of Iran’s clampdown on anti-government protests. More than 40 Iranian students have been arrested between Dec. 30 and Jan. 4, 2018, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran.
According to a BBC report on Monday, a 22-year-old man arrested during the protests has died in a prison in Tehran.


French court throws out Qatari-owned beIN Sports’ ‘unproven’ broadcast piracy claim against Arabsat

Updated 18 June 2019
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French court throws out Qatari-owned beIN Sports’ ‘unproven’ broadcast piracy claim against Arabsat

  • The court rejected beIN’s allegations and demanded that beIN pay a fine of €6,000 to Arabsat’s adviser

LONDON: The Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris has thrown out beIN Media group’s allegations against the Arab Satellite Communications Organisation — better known as Arabsat.

The French court rejected beIN’s allegations and demanded that beIN pay a fine of €6,000 to Arabsat’s adviser, and the prosecution costs of Arabsat amounting to €25,000.

Arabsat said it welcomed the ruling, which made clear there was no link between Arabsat and piracy.

The court said beIN had failed to demonstrate “clear illegal disruption or prove immediate risk of commercial damage.”

In a statement issued after the conclusion of the legal proceedings in Paris, the satellite company said that it respected the integrity of the French judiciary and was pleased with how skillfully and professionally the allegations of Qatar’s Al Jazeera subsidiary, beIN Sports, were addressed.

“The French judiciary’s ruling, rejecting beIN’s lawsuit and allegations against Arabsat, has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt our organization’s valid position from day one, despite beIN Sport’s attempts to cast doubt on that position; its media smear campaign; and its relentless attempts to push bogus and misleading claims,” Arabsat said in a statement following the ruling.

INNUMBERS

• €25,000 — beIN ordered to pay prosecution costs of Arabsat

• 500 — The number of TV channels Arabsat broadcasts

• 170 million — Arabsat audience in the Middle East and North Africa

• 1976 — year Arabsat was founded

It marks the latest legal chapter in a long running feud that has produced claim and counter claim.  In a press release issued on May 2, 2018 beIN accused Arabsat of “facilitation of satellite broadcasts by the notorious Saudi-based piracy network, cynically known as “beoutQ”.

Founded in 1976, Arabsat has grown to become the leading satellite services provider in the Arab world.

It broadcasts over 500 TV channels, 200 radio stations, pay-tv networks as well as HD channels to millions of homes across 80 countries.

It has an estimated audience of over 170 million viewers in the Middle East and North Africa.

Doha-based beIN was founded in 2014 and operates 60 channels in 43 countries.