Special Report on Increasing the Cyber-Security Monitoring of the Sexual Minorities Movement in Iran

HRANA News Agency – The Fourth Pillar Committee is an organization associated with the Human Rights Activists in Iran and is actively involved in fighting against the censorship and tightening the Internet security measures. This committee has recently reported the monitoring and cyber security activities of the intelligence organizations of the government of Iran as well-organized, serious threat against the Internet, in particular with respect to the sexual minorities activities in Iran.  The Fourth Pillar Committee has published a report about the cyber security activities of the intelligence organizations of the Iranian government to increase the public awareness and experience in dealing with these activities which could be essential for the development of human rights activities and freedom of speech in Iran. The main features of these cyber security activities and their operations and coordination are described below.

The movement for the rights of sexual minorities has remarkably improved over the recent years in Iran. This movement has currently started to publicize their legal demands, which is a dramatic improvement in comparison with a few years ago. In parallel with increasing the activities of this movement, the destructive attacks against the sexual rights activists have been expanded. After the recent sexual minorities parade in Istanbul, in which a number of Iranian sexual minorities rights activists also participated, the security agencies in Iran felt intimidated particularly because this parade was carried out in a Muslim country close to Iran. Therefore, the security and intelligence agencies of the Iranian government started a widespread campaign against the sexual rights activists using the social media. This malicious campaign has been more visible in the recent weeks, probably because of the broad reflection of some of the Sexual Minorities activities in the World Day against Homo-Phobia and Trans-Phobia (17 May). Although, these cyber security campaign are currently focused on a small number of sexual minorities organizations, but it may target the integrity of the young and moving LG BT organization (lesbian or gay female, gay or gay men, bi or bisexual or  transsexuals) in long term.

In order to better understand the vulnerability of this movement, it is important to pay attention to its features: the members of the sexual minorities only express their sexual orientations in social media because of the existing taboo in the society and amongst families in Iran around the expression of sexual orientation and gender identity. The members of this community, particularly those living inside Iran, often do not know each other outside the social networks and have not met each other in real life. Therefore, they find the social networks a platform to express their opinions, find consultations or even express their feelings using nicknames or names different from their original names. This situation creates perfect atmosphere for the members of Iranian secret service agency or those collaborating with these agencies (perhaps based on their previous arrests or interrogations histories) to penetrate into the sexual minorities community without the need to reveal their real names and identities. This is well accepted and commonly justified because faking the identity is a requirement for being active in the social media and virtual environment. The Committee on the Fourth Pillar has revealed several destructive methods used by the Iranian secret service against the movement in recent weeks including:

– Creation of multiple webpages on various social networks and communicating with false identities and false information with the intention of creating division and confusion amongst the activists and relevant parties in the field.

– Publishing false accusations concerning moral and sexual corruptions against asylum seekers and activists using unknown sources to create a sense of insecurity and skepticism around known activists of this movement with the intention of impeding their activities.

– Creating parallel websites with names similar to those created by known activists with the intention of tracking their activities and communications with alibi of “clarifying controversial topics” and at the same time using malware and computer bugs to develop technical problems.

– Publicizing personal and family information of known activists of the movement to limit their activities.

– Creating false webpages using the identity of known activists to communicate and mislead naive and misguided individuals

– Issuing internal information of active groups. This information is mainly extracted under interrogations and torture inside Iran. The security agencies mix this information with false information to create division and impede the human rights activities while increasing the sense of insecurity and disloyalty amongst the activists of this movement.

A common point in all these activities is the unknown identity of the authors or directors of the webpages, who lack natural or legal identities.

It should be noted that there is a fundamental difference between constructive criticisms of individuals and cyber-security campaigns.

Recommendations:

– The activists who have been the target of such communications are recommended to insist on identifying the true identity of contacting persons and avoid any dialogue or disclosure of any information until the identity is revealed.

-Do not believe the deceptive news of unknown resources against groups and individuals.

– Do not visit infected and parallel websites and ensure your browser is equipped with the latest antivirus programs and firewalls

At the end, it is important to emphasize that the cyber-security activities in Iran are mainly organized and directed by cyber-security division of the revolutionary guard, the FATA police, and other parallel security organizations. These organizations became very active after the 10th presidential elections demonstrations and organized serious attacks against different human rights and social rights activists using social media and national Radio and TV services. Using media such as radio and television capabilities and related media, they started hacking and sabotaging the cyber infrastructure of the political and social activists and caused serious damage to civil rights groups in Iran and in some cases completely deactivated or discredited human rights activities in the field. In the case of the sexual minorities in Iran, the cyber-security forces are looking for having forced confessions in national TV. The individuals active in this field should avoid suspicious communications and increase their cyber security against hackers and malwares and illegitimate webpages that may be fishing information and working for the cyber-security agencies of the government of Iran.

The Fourth Pillar of the Human Rights Association of Iran

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