Not long after the nationwide protests against the increase in gas prices started, Islamic Republic authorities shut down internet connections across the country in an unprecedented manner. Only five percent of connections remained, most of them for the banking networks, air transportation and other vital parts of the country’s infrastructure.
Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology, claimed the State Security Council (SSC) was responsible for the shutdown. The council was created early on after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and given the mission of ensuring the domestic security of the Islamic Republic, and originally it was headed by the prime minister. During a council meeting at the prime minister’s office on August 30, 1981, a bomb exploded and killed Premier Mohammad Javad Bahonar, President Mohammad Ali Rajaei and six other government officials.
Mir Hossein Mousavi became the next premier, and his Interior Minister Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri suggested that Nouri himself should be the head of the council because its duties fall under the interior minister’s jurisdiction.
“The interior minister is responsible for the country’s security but the prime minister is the head of the state security council,” Nategh Nouri writes in his memoirs. “My objection was based on the principle that I could not accept responsibility without authority. I told Mr. Mousavi that responsibility must be accompanied by authority and in this case it was not working that way. Mr. Mousavi, who is a fair person, thought about it a little and said, let us have a meeting...The interior ministry submitted a bill through the cabinet to the parliament. It was approved and afterward, responsibility for the State Security Council was transferred from the premier’s office to the interior ministry.”
The Three Levels of Security Council
The State Security Council falls directly under the authority of the interior minister. Under normal conditions it meets twice a week unless there is an emergency situation, in which case it meets as soon as it possibly.can. Council members consist of representatives from the security, intelligence and military institutions of the Islamic Republic and from the judiciary and parliamentary committees that deal with security affairs. When a security issue concerns a specific institution, the head of that institution is also invited to the meeting. For instance, when an increase in poverty led to an increase in petty thefts, the SSC invited the minister of justice to the meeting even though the minister is not a permanent member of the council.
In the Islamic Republic there are three security councils at three levels. The most important one is the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), headed by the president, whose decrees must be approved by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. In cases when the SNSC considers emergency or highly significant issues, such as the nuclear negotiations, Khamenei participates in the meetings so that its decisions are carried out without unnecessary delay. The scope of this council’s decisions can go beyond the borders of Iran, as in the case of nuclear-related decisions.
Then there are provincial security councils. Each province has its own security council headed by the governor of the province. The council meets regularly unless there is an emergency and an immediate meeting is required. The final decisions of these councils rest with the provincial governors.
The State Security Council occupies the mid-level between the SNSC and the provincial security councils. The council’s decision-making process is similar to that of provincial councils, with the difference that its decisions cover the whole country, not just a single province.
Who are the Responsible Officials?
The State Security Council operates as a consultative body for the interior minister of the Islamic Republic. It is responsible for guarding the domestic security of the entire country and protecting the lives of government officials. The interior minister can implement the views of the council or act at his own discretion.
Following the outbreak of nationwide protests, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, as the head of the State Security Council, invited Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology, to discuss the idea of shutting down the internet as a response to the spread of protests to various cities. It is unlikely, but possible, that not all members of the council voted to shut down the internet. Nevertheless, it is the interior minister who has the last word.
Even if all council members had voted in favor of the internet shutdown, it is the council’s president, Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli, who holds responsibility for any damage done to the functioning of hospitals, emergency medical services and the businesses of millions of Iranian citizens. The president of the Islamic Republic also shares the blame because the interior minister is accountable to him.
Can they Sue?
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iranian citizens can go to the Court of Administrative Justice with their complaints about actions and decisions taken by the government that they believe break laws or damage their interests.
In the case of the internet being shut down, Iranian citizens can bring their complaints to the Court of Administrative Justice, or even sue the interior minister for damages. But considering the way the Islamic Republic actually works, the chances of success are very low. However, to pursue the matter at an international level, domestic legal proceedings must run their course inside Iran first.
If such complaints to the court are ignored, and a reasonable passage of time proves that they have been ignored, Iranian citizens who have the means can sue people responsible for the internet shutdown in courts outside Iran. Foreign or international businesses active in Iran — provided they have a related clause in their contracts — or even tourists who have been hurt financially or psychologically by the shutdown of the internet are entitled to sue the Iranian government at international courts.
They Escaped Persecution. Now They Cannot Contact Their Families, November 21, 2019
Shutting Down the Internet to Get Away with Murder, November 19, 2019
Iran Pulls a “North Korea” by Cutting off Internet in Response to Protests, November 17, 2019