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Iranian 'web crime' unit designed to silence dissent

Reports that the Iranian government plans to establish "cyber police" to fight "crimes" on the internet indicate that they are intensifying their attack on freedom of expression, Amnesty International said on Monday. According to the Iranian media, a special unit reporting to the chief prosecutor is being set up to scour the web in search of people "spreading lies" and "insults" against the system. Amnesty International has described it as an attempt to stifle dissent, intimidate political opposition and extend the climate of repression online. "This new unit will further undermine freedom of expression, which is already severely limited in Iran," said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Amnesty International. "The authorities’ aim seems to be to deter people from criticizing the government or circulating information – such as information on human rights violations – that they wish to suppress." "Instead of permitting this, Iran’s judicial and security forces should end the mounting attack on Iran’s bloggers and online activists." Repression of political dissent using vaguely worded legislation has long been common in Iran, with journalists and bloggers given prison sentences simply for criticizing the government. Internet filtering has already been implemented to ensure the public does not see views that differ from those acceptable to the government. This has created a palpable climate of repression following June’s disputed presidential election, forcing Iran’s otherwise active community of online journalists to self-censor or face arrest and possibly torture. "Iran will be applying to cyber activists the same flawed legal standards that have resulted in the imprisonment of scores of journalists who did nothing other than report the facts, peacefully and objectively," said Malcolm Smart. "In the midst of acute political tension throughout Iran, policing the internet is yet one more way in which the authorities are seeking to stifle political dissent." Days after June's disputed presidential election, an arm of the Revolutionary Guard accused bloggers and websites of promoting “rebellion” and threatening to crack down on them.   The creation of the cybercrimes unit is the latest repressive measure implemented by Iran’s security services.