The news that Iran might be seeking to create a 'halal Internet' isn't new. But while speculation about Iran's withdrawal from the online world abounds, the country's recent move to block Gmail and—though inconsistently—Google Search, is one of the first concrete measures to indicate just how serious the plans may be.
As Reuters reported on Sunday, a deputy government minister, Abdolsamad Khoramabadi announced that both services would be blocked "within a few hours." That news was followed by reports on social media that Gmail was in fact blocked, and Google Search appeared only to be blocked in some areas, or on some ISPs. A report on Monday from Global Voices Online confirmed that information.
At least one report (in Farsi) suggests that the block was due to requests "by the public" to oppose Google for its refusal to take down the film 'Innocence of Muslims' from YouTube, but considering YouTube has been blocked in the country for several years, that seems highly unlikely.
These new filtering measures coincide with what Global Voices' Fred Petrossian calls a "new wave of repression" against Iranian bloggers, citing several recent convictions of bloggers as well as the beating of one blogger's wife after she allegedly complained about the behavior of security forces.
While these new measures indicate an unprecedented level of control over the country's more than 36 million Internet users, some analysts have suggested that such heavy restrictions will force a larger swath of the population to seek out means of circumventing the controls and, potentially, politicize a greater portion of the population. Though this may be true, we have grave concerns about the severity of the restrictions, which hamper Iranians' ability to connect with each other and the outside world, and stand against the Iranian regime's attempts to sequester their population.