Miaan Group along with 15 other organization and prominent human rights activists released an open letter and call on Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin of ITU, to press Iran on Internet shutdowns, not enable them.
Dear Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin,
We, the undersigned civil society organizations and advocates for an open and accessible Internet, are writing to express our deep concern about the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)’s determination on Iran during its 23-27 October 2023 Board meeting. We believe that this decision undermines the principle of a global and open Internet.
The ITU Board decided that Iran had provided sufficient evidence that Starlink terminals were being used illegally in its territory. The evidence showed that the terminals could send and receive signals from Starlink satellites, and that the system could identify the location of the users. The terminals were smuggled into Iran, and the users had registered with foreign addresses. Starlink’s terms and conditions prohibit the use of terminals in unauthorized areas. Hence the Board argued: “the provision of transmissions from within any territories where they had not been authorized, was in direct contravention of the provisions of RR Article 18 and of, resolves 1 and 2 of Resolution 22 (WRC-19) and the resolves of Resolution 25 (WRC03) and requested the Administration of Norway, acting as the notifying administrator.”
We contend that this decision offends goals of the ITU, including efforts to attain “meaningful connectivity” and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and overlooks the broader implications of Iran’s restrictive Internet policies, which violate the rights of millions of Iranians to access information and communicate freely.
As organizations advocating for open Internet access, we strive to protect the right to new and emerging technologies, especially in regions where the government restricts or censors Internet access. We believe that access to low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite providers, which include but are not limited to STARLINK, are invaluable in this regard. These services are also anticipated to deliver mobile connectivity in the near future, making them essential to fostering open communication and ensuring the flow of information.
We are alarmed by the ITU’s decision and its underlying documents, such as the Radio Regulations and the World Radio communication Conference Resolution 22. These documents restrict access to alternative forms of connectivity without proper consideration of global human rights standards, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has agreed to uphold.
Furthermore, while the ITU constitution, in Article 35, asserts that member states have the right to suspend telecommunication service for certain kinds of correspondence under certain conditions, this is caveated by the fact that they must immediately notify other state parties and the Secretary-General of such action. The Iranian government has failed to comply with this obligation and has not provided any justification or explanation for its Internet shutdowns, which have been used to suppress dissent, silence critics, and hide human rights violations.
In light of the urgency of the situation, numerous rights organizations have repeatedly called on the ITU to reform its constitution, study the impacts of intentional disruptions like internet shutdowns and blocking, and intervene in situations such as this. Our organizations have underscored the urgency of the ITU exerting its influence on Iran over its widespread Internet shutdowns and online censorship.
We also refer to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who stated in a 13 May 2022 report that ITU articles 34 and 35 should not be used to justify internet shutdowns, and that these provisions should “be applied together with and subject to the additional obligations that States have assumed under international human rights law to respect the right to freedom of expression and other applicable human rights.”
As such, we urgently call upon you, as the Secretary-General of the ITU, to take a proactive stance against the Internet censorship and repression practiced by the Iranian government. Our recommendations are as follows:
Prioritize Transparency and Accountability: The ITU should insist that Iran promptly notifies it about any Internet shutdowns or disruptions. Iran should be obliged to provide a comprehensive and transparent account of its actions that have led to such shutdowns. This transparency is essential for the ITU’s ability to monitor and respond effectively to these issues.
Hold Iran Accountable: The ITU must hold Iran responsible for its actions. If Iran violates ITU rules or disrupts Internet connectivity without proper notification and justifiable reasons, the ITU should impose appropriate penalties.
Engage with Civil Society: We encourage you to actively collaborate actively with civil society organizations and human rights advocates working on this issue. Their input and feedback are valuable in understanding the ground realities and devising suitable strategies to ensure the availability and accessibility of Internet services in Iran.
Our recommendations align with the primary goals of the ITU to maintain global Internet access and ensure sustainable development. We stand with the people of Iran in their quest for unhampered access to information and communication.
Media Diversity Institute – Armenia
The Centre for Supporters of Human Rights
Kurdistan Human Rights Association-Geneva (KMMK-G)
Single Mothers Association of Kenya
Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet)
United For Iran
Center For Human Rights in Iran
Association for the Human Rights of the people in Iran (AHRAZ)
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize