Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi, 37, is the youngest minister in the Rouhani Cabinet. He is known to be a key player in the regime’s censorship and surveillance campaign, which intensified in the wake of anti-regime protests.
The US sanctioned Azari-Jahromi on Saturday for his role in the Iranian regime’s wide scale Internet censorship as a pressure tactic after Tehran shut down internet access to help stifle protests against fuel price hikes.
According to a statement released by The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), “Internet access in Iran, managed by Azari-Jahromi’s ministry, was blocked for several days in November based on what Iranian authorities describe as national security concerns in the wake of anti-regime protests throughout the country.”
At the moment, Instagram is the only accessible social media platform in the country. Azari-Jahromi pressured those responsible to block Instagram, following the blocking of Telegram one month ago.
“Iran’s leaders know that a free and open internet exposes their illegitimacy, so they seek to censor internet access to quell anti-regime protests,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “We are sanctioning Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology for restricting Internet access, including to popular messaging applications that help tens of millions of Iranians stay connected to each other and the outside world.”
According to reports, Azari-Jahromi, in his new position, has stepped up surveillance and interception of Iranian activists’ phone calls and surveillance over the internet and social networks and is keeping the network fully under the control of the Ministry of Information. His ministry has worked to block access to online censorship circumvention tools, also referred to as anti-filtering tools, such as virtual private networks.
Prior to becoming the information minister, Azari-Jahromi worked with the Ministry of Intelligence.
He is a former member of Iran’s intelligence apparatus, OFAC stated, adding: “Azari-Jahromi was involved in surveillance operations during the state crackdown on peaceful protests in 2009, which significantly aided the authorities’ ability to identify, track, arrest, and imprison protesters. He has been the target of accusations that he personally interrogated multiple activists during this period.”
In a previous press interview, Azari-Jahromi pushed back at criticism and defended those accused of involvement in human rights abuses and torture to extract confessions from defendants, as well as to monitor the conversations and movements of the Green Movement supporters during the 2009 protests. As Undersecretary for Information Technology and Director-General of the Ministry of Information, he played a major role in 2009 in keeping the Green Movement’s activities under full control.
In an interview with Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, Azari-Jahromi said, “I take pride in being an employee of the Ministry of Intelligence, but I reject the inaccuracies attributed to me.”
According to the OFAC, Azari-Jahromi played a role in launching Iran’s National Information Network (NIN), which has enhanced the Iranian government’s ability to monitor, restrict and completely block Internet usage in Iran. Azari-Jahromi has also attributed Internet disruptions in Iran to technical issues outside of the country, despite findings by external experts that the disruptions originated from sources operating under the regulation of his ministry, says the statement released by the OFAC.