Iran is the least free country in the world when it comes to the internet, according to the U.S.-based human rights organization Freedom House in a new report entitled "Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media."
The report evaluated 37 countries on a sliding scale of openness, and Iran came in last -– worse than such repressive countries as China, Cuba and Burma.
Since the protests following the disputed 2009 presidential elections, Freedom House says Iranian authorities have conducted an aggressive assault on internet freedom. They have blocked thousands of websites; they have deliberately slowed the internet to a crawl at critical times; they have employed a range of measures to monitor online communications, and they have threatened and arrested dozens of bloggers, subjecting many to trial, torture and solitary confinement; at least one blogger died in police custody.
At the same time, the Iranian regime has employed the internet to advance its own agenda. The government sponsors hundreds of posts to defend Iran's leaders and their policies, as well as to discredit opposition voices or human rights activists. Recently the government held a blogging competition – open only to blogs that are not censored in Iran; that is, open only to pro-regime blogs. The winner of the competition was Omid Hosseini, a well-known pro-government blogger, who vigorously supports Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Even more recently, Iranian authorities have announced plans for what they are calling a "Halal Internet," which, through extensive government censorship, would be run as a nation-wide intranet supposedly conforming to Islamic principles.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has decried the growing practice of authoritarian governments to curtail Internet freedom. She particularly cited Iran, where "authorities block opposition and media websites, target social media, and steal identifying information about their own people in order to hunt them down."
She pointed out that such policies lead to "a losing hand": "resorting to greater oppression and enduring the escalating opportunity costs of missing out on the ideas that have been blocked, and people who have been disappeared."
Ultimately internet freedom is a matter of human rights, human freedom and human dignity, said Secretary Clinton. And the United States will always stand with those who peacefully exercise their fundamental rights "whether in person, in print, or in pixels on the Internet."