In yet another attempt to control its population, Iran is developing a national search engine called Ya Haq, a Persian expression meaning “Oh Lord.” Expected to be fully operational in 2012, Iran’s announcement is worrisome as it could be one of the first steps toward creating a national Intranet, as opposed to the international Internet. With an Intranet employed, the online world inside Iran would be a sanitized one completely controlled by the state and piped into homes through a state-run broadband.
According to experts, Iran is increasingly worried that new, secure forms of popular search engines such as Yahoo and Google are providing young Iranians with information the government cannot control. “They see the free flow of information to young people in Iran as probably one of the biggest dangers facing the country,” said Iranian-born Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute in Washington. “They look at how the young are technologically savvy, literate, and interested. There is this thirst for information, for debate, and the Khameneis and Ahmadinejads of this world are trying to choke the flow of information.”
There’s no doubt that the Iranian government is threatened by the World Wide Web. Following Iran’s contested presidential elections last summer, many in the country’s opposition movement took to the Internet to get their message out to other Iranians as well as to the international media. Because of online communications technology, the world was able to witness the atrocities and human rights violations that took place in the streets of Iran, deployed by the government. An international outcry ensued.
More recently, human rights activists took the Internet yet again to garner support for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. While Ashtiani’s sentence was postponed after the news enraged the international community, her fate remains unknown and many believe she will, or already was, hanged instead.
Indeed, Iran’s move to try and shut its country off from the international Internet comes as no surprise. However, it’s important that the Western world and its leaders don’t allow this story to run unnoticed. As the world waits, watches, and worries while Iran continues to develop uranium for a potential nuclear weapon, the international community should not forget that Iran’s citizens are being increasingly cut off.