For activists and bloggers in Iran, accessing information on the web can be a very dangerous activity.
Internet access in the country is highly filtered, with authorities keeping close tabs on online activities.
Control is so extreme that most assume that their email accounts are monitored by the government and for those reliant on servers inside Iran, there is restricted access to international news websites and popular social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube.
But many online activists bloggers and other internet users have come up with creative ways of by-passing state control – with many using proxy hosts and filter-busting programmes to access sites abroad, though they increasingly find that these are either blocked or extremely slow.
One of them, student, blogger and computer technician, Ashkan Delanvar, paid a high price for his online activism.
Delanvar was the first person Amnesty International learned of who was tried and sentenced to prison under the 2009 Law on Cyber Crimes, for providing software to overcome the authorities’ internet filters and training people how to use it.
Arrested in July 2010 and held in poor conditions for 14 days, he was sentenced to 10 months in prison, which was increased on appeal in June 2011. Fearing for his safety, he fled, and is currently seeking asylum in Germany.
“Bloggers see it as their duty to inform other people, but in Iran [they] are seen as a threat to the government because they provide analysis of daily life and politics, and reflect news that is blocked,” Ashkan Delanvar said, adding that many bloggers are especially critical of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s focus on religious principles.
New measures taken to limit the freedom of everyone in Iran to exercise their right of peaceful expression are rooted in long-standing policy and practice. In recent years, a shadowy "Cyber Army", reportedly linked to the Revolutionary Guards, has carried out attacks on websites at home and abroad, such as against the sites of Twitter and Voice of America.
In January 2012, Police Chief Brigadier General Esma’il Ahmadi-Moghaddam announced that a new Cyber Police, established in 2011, was now working throughout the country to confront Internet crimes and counter social networks that spread “espionage and riots”.
“[The authorities] are looking for power and control over everything and every connection between people in Iran, both in the real world and in cyberspace,” Ashkan Delanvar added.
Delanvar continues to write political commentary now that he has left Iran, but is amazed by his new-found freedom to express himself without having to use a pseudonym.
“Outside Iran it’s so easy – now I read and write everything I want, under my name, and I can access any website I want,” he said.