Under pressure, Iranian MPs postpone internet restriction bill

Iran’s parliament has suspended its review of a highly controversial bill that a minister, citizens and businesses say will only lead to more internet restrictions in the country.

The bill, first proposed three years ago, is titled “Protecting Users in Cyberspace and Organising Social Media” but critics say it is aimed at introducing more controls in a country where most prominent global services are already banned.

An online petition calling for the legislation to be scrapped has already garnered close to half a million signatures.

Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi denounced the bill in letters to parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and President-elect Ebrahim Raisi that surfaced on Sunday.

The outgoing minister said the bill will limit users’ free access to information, weaken the government’s role in cyberspace decision-making, and make the ministry practically obsolete.

Raisi, who will be sworn in as Iran’s eighth president next month, has previously discussed his support for a “layered” internet access system based on a variety of criteria, including profession.

The long-gestating legislation may still be given the go-ahead by the parliament with a number of lawmakers backing it.

However, for it to become law, it will still need to be approved by the Guardian Council, a hardline constitutional vetting body.

In a joint statement on Monday, 47 of Iran’s largest digital businesses, including online retailers, video on-demand streaming services and ISPs, expressed their concerns.

“We stress that this bill will certainly not benefit Iranian internet businesses and its designers must know that its damages to local businesses will far outweigh its benefits,” they wrote.

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