Why Is Iran Blocking Gmail?

A surprising tactic on the anniversary of the Revolution

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Thursday is the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. But the celebration in Iran, usually an occasion for patriotism, is complicated this year by continuing protests from the opposition movement in Tehran. As nationalists and reformers march in the streets (peacefully, so far), the Iranian government is taking the opportunity to crack down on the ability of reformers to organize online.

Yes, Iran is blocking Gmail. The timing for Google is ironic, as the company has just unveiled its new Buzz service, to mixed reaction. More significantly, the ban could hamper the reform movement's ability to communicate.

It is no surprise that Gmail is being targeted–given Google’s recent actions regarding government censorship in China, as well as the fact that Gmail has widely been regarded as one of the more secure email services available to the public. Iranian human rights defenders and activists among the One Million Signatures women’s rights campaign often encourage each other to utilize Gmail, instead of Yahoo or other email services, due to the level of security it offers.
  • Iran Pushing State-Run Email Service  The New York Times's Nazila Fathi writes, "The government announced last week that it was starting a national e-mail service to replace foreign ones, as a way to build 'trust' with the people. But the opposition says most people use Gmail and Yahoo precisely because they are suspicious of local e-mail services, which they strongly suspect are monitored by the government."
  • Anniversary Day Crackdown  Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell writes that, in addition to blocking gmail, Iran is "restricting text-messaging services in the hopes of keeping the opposition from organizing and getting the word out. Already there are signs that reaching people within Iran is more difficult than usual." He adds, "These are not the actions of a confident government."
  • Iranian Regime Extends Control to Internet  The Wall Street Journal's Cummins and Vascellaro report that the government has long exercised tight control over old media like newspapers and TV, but that the web-organized opposition protests have spurred it to take a similar tack with new media and social networking.
  • Iran's Tradition of Secret Organizing  Juan Cole remembers Ali Khomeini's 1970s organizing. "Iran is notoriously hard to organize, being a set of mostly medium-sized cities separated by vast distances and arid, often craggy terrain; Khomeini used the radio, sending signals through BBC interviews, and audio cassette tapes, which followers played in private or in taxis beyond the hearing of the secret police of Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, the shah."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.