Iran Cracks Down On Satellite Dishes As U.N. Body Bans Signal Jamming

A U.N. body that regulates telecommunications ruled that Iran, among other nations, must stop jamming and interfering with international broadcasts. At the World Radiocommunications Conference, members of the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) voted overwhelmingly to mandate that authorities take “necessary action” to end jamming in their jurisdictions. “Jamming is a fundamental violation, not only of international regulations and norms, but of the right of people everywhere to receive and impart information,” said Richard Lobo, the director of the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau, which beams U.S. government-sponsored channels like Voice of America’s Persian service into Iran.

Rights groups lauded the decision. Aliakbar Mousavi, a former member of Iranian parliament, praised the move in a statement released by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI):

This is the first meaningful action taken by the ITU and the UN to make legal provisions to counter censorship of satellite programs within various countries. The Iranian regime will have no more excuses to breach these regulations.

But Iran does not appear ready to give up. RFE/RL reporter Golnaz Esfandiari tweeted an article from an semi-official Iranian news agency showing Iranian authorities leaping from rooftop to rooftop in East Tehran in order to confiscate illegal satellite dishes in the name of “social security” — that is, securing “social” values. Here’s a picture of police standing over dismantled dishes:

The ITU ruling comes after Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists raised alarms about intimidation of family to employees of Britain’s state-sponsored Farsi-language news service, BBC Persian, which is also beamed into Iran against the wishes of the regime.

But the vote itself is only the start of enforcing the decision, ICHRI notes. In a December Wall Street Journal opinion piece, ICHRI spokesman Hadi Ghaemi and Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Laureate and Iranian human rights lawyer, laid out how companies like the European group Eutelsat allow Iran to block signals for channels like BBC Persian but at the same time allow Iranian state-owned operators to use their satellites unencumbered. They wrote:

The European Union and U.S. should take immediate and decisive action requiring that these satellite companies end their cooperation with Iranian censors. … Without pressure on these companies from both sides of Atlantic, the people of Iran will remain cut off from the outside world.

In today’s ICHRI statement, Ghaemi said: “The ITU has now made Iran’s legal obligations perfectly clear. But the international community, including telecommunications corporations like Eutelsat, needs to sustain its efforts to make sure Iran stops jamming satellite broadcasts.”

Jamming satellites, though, are by no means the only way Iran controls the flow of information. This month, journalists and others reported that Iran increasingly curtailed internet access ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections — in addition to cracking down on journalists themselves.