By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Officials in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz have pledged to look into suggestions of a link between public health risks and the jamming of communications in the area, after residents took to the streets to complain of ailments that could stem from technology used to block foreign broadcasts.
Authorities have acknowledged in the past that jamming takes place in Iran, but no official has ever come forward to assume responsibility for the practice.
The officials in Shiraz offered their assurances at a January 9 gathering where dozens of citizens called for action against jamming, which they suspect of causing health problems such as headaches and even cancer.
"Jamming is betrayal of the people," some chanted.
Others argued that good health is their "inalienable right."
WATCH: Iranians Protest Transmitter Jamming In Shiraz
On January 9, Fars Province Deputy Governor Hadi Pazhuheshi Jahromi said that "because the health of Shiraz's citizens is of high importance to us," Shiraz University and its medical-sciences staff have been asked to conduct research on the extent of jamming in the city and its possible impact on public health.
Some jamming technology disrupts wireless signals like satellite transmissions or WiFi through the use of electromagnetic currents, which are sometimes blamed by the public for a number of health problems.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded based on scientific literature that "current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields."
'Links To Cancer, Infertility'
Recently published conclusions from Shiraz University appear to have contributed to the local concerns, linking electromagnetic currents to cancer, infertility, and immunological disorders.
"We are with you, and we promise that we will review the issue of jamming in a precise and scientific manner," Ayatollah Razmjoo, an adviser to Fars's governor and the head of the governorate's international PR office, said, adding, "The issue of jamming has nothing to do with the government."
The health concerns have gained momentum from Persian-language social media posts that claimed the jamming signals had become exponentially stronger, and cited disruptions in mobile communications and television signals in the area.
Ali Akbari, a lawmaker from Shiraz, told parliament in an open session earlier this month that the spread of headaches -- particularly in the west of the city -- has prompted concerns.
Akbari complained that no officials were ready to take responsibility for the problems.
"Neither the interior minister, the communications minister, nor the health minister is giving a clear answer in this regard, and the jamming signals are spreading headaches and disrupting the mobile network, television, and [creating] environmental problems," Akbari was quoted as saying by domestic media on January 3.
Last month, Deputy Governor Jahromi reportedly dismissed talk of potentially hazardous jamming as "rumors" and urged citizens to ignore it.
The United Nations' International Telecommunication Union has asserted the duty of states to confront the possible risks to the public of electromagnetic fields, including jamming.
As a purportedly heavy user of jamming to combat Western influence and news and other information, Iran has confronted public concerns in the past about its potential impact on health.
The Iran Meteorological Organization in 2014 took
public its own complaint that jamming devices had crippled its forecasting
ability ahead of a deadly dust storm that struck Tehran.
cartoon by Ahmad Arabani, Shahrvand daily
Lack Of Clarity
Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi said in 2014 that a committee was looking into whether jamming indeed posed a health threat. He also cited widespread "rumors" about jamming's effects and its consequences on people's health, adding that "most of the rumors have no scientific basis." It is unclear whether such a committee issued any findings or even concluded its research.
A lack of clarity from Iranian officials would complicate efforts to determine health risks, as experts would need to know the method and extent of such jamming to make a determination.
Ali Akbar Musavi, a U.S.-based rights activist and a former lawmaker who investigated jamming in Iran a decade ago, told RFE/RL in 2014 that at that time jamming centers were scattered in and around major cities and operated by "military bodies." Musavi said Iran jammed satellite signals and used "local jamming," deploying trucks in specific locations to interfere with reception at ground level.
Jamming activities are said to intensify at politically sensitive times, as do campaigns to combat the widespread presence of illegal satellite dishes used to capture foreign news and entertainment broadcasts.
Article 33 of a Citizens' Rights Charter launched recently by President Hassan Rohani states that "Citizens have the right to freely and without discrimination enjoy access to and communicate and obtain information and knowledge from cyberspace."
It adds that the "imposition of any type of restriction (such as filtering, interference, speed reduction and network interruption) without explicit legal authority is prohibited."
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