Iran’s internet bill expected to progress despite overturned vote

Hardline proponents of the legislation faced a setback but are unlikely to give up on the bill.

Iranian man checking the Clubhouse App on his smartphone
An Iranian man checks the Clubhouse App on his smart phone [File: AFP]

Tehran, Iran – A controversial snap vote by Iranian lawmakers on progressing an internet restrictions bill has been overturned, but proponents are still expected to move forward with the legislation.

Hours after the outlines of the so-called “Protection Bill” were approved in a controversial meeting of 19 lawmakers on Tuesday, the parliament’s regulations department overturned the vote.

It said in the late hours of the night that the meeting and the vote – which were held despite parliament guidelines that state all reviews must be halted when parliament is focused on the budget bill – were invalid.

Voting on and reviewing the bill has been delegated to a specialised committee after proponents invoked an article of the constitution that allows some bills to be deferred to such committees that would have the power to ratify and “experimentally” implement legislation.

But after the vote on Tuesday, which was streamed live and faced significant backlash online, the sole lawmaker who voted against the bill mounted an effort to return it to voting in parliament.

Jalal Rashidi wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning that his petition to take the legislation out of the specialised committee has so far garnered 130 signatures – out of 290 lawmakers – and more are signing up.

Proponents of the bill, who maintain its aim is to safeguard the population from harmful content on the internet and support local businesses, have repeatedly said they wish to finalise it before the Iranian calendar year ends on March 20.

Opponents of the legislation believe it will introduce significant new restrictions on online freedoms in Iran while also stifling competition and harbouring corruption with its myriad new state permits and funding.

“The people will be free to use whatever platforms they have available and these claims have nothing to do with this bill,” Lotfollah Siahkali, spokesman of the specialised committee, told state television on Tuesday night in response to fears that the legislation will block remaining global services like Instagram and WhatsApp.

Reza Taghipour, who heads the specialised committee on the bill, was defiant on Wednesday and said he will oppose the overturning of the vote as he believes it did not go against regulations.

“I also see some media have said this overturn signals the termination of the bill, which is just malign and malicious media behaviour,” he said.

Most popular global services and websites, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Telegram are filtered in Iran, prompting Iranians to use virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent restrictions. But the bill also aims to criminalise the distribution of VPNs through jail terms and fines.

Moreover, internet speeds – especially connections to global services and those using VPNs – have significantly slowed in recent months, prompting fears that some elements of the bill are already in motion.

This has been denied by government officials and lawmakers supporting the bill, who maintain that slowing connection speeds are due to increased demand and because the administration of former President Hassan Rouhani did not sufficiently develop infrastructures.

Review of the legislation, which was first introduced three years ago, was temporarily suspended by its hardline proponents in July 2021 after an overwhelming backlash by the public, the business community, and even government officials.

An online petition to scrap it garnered more than 1.1 million signatures last year. Online backlash against the bill has been consistent since, and continued after Tuesday’s vote, with several related hashtags trending.

Source: Al Jazeera