By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran rejected criticism from a U.N. human rights investigator over its tighter cyber security rules, saying they are necessary to protect it against cyber attacks and have nothing whatsoever to do with freedom of expression.
In his latest report, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, said he was concerned about reports of government activities "that seemingly infringe on freedom of expression and the right to information."
He said authorities have reportedly targeted websites they see as promoting terrorism, espionage, and economic or social crimes.
These include sites that contain "pornographic content, insult Islam or Government officials, proselytize unrecognized religions, or establish anti-government political groups," Shaheed said.
In a response to his report, presented to U.N. General Assembly delegations this week and sent to Reuters on Thursday by Iran's U.N. mission, Tehran said its cyber policies were unrelated to human rights.
"Establishment of (a) cyber council for securing domestic Internet relates to security and sovereignty of states rather than an issue dealing with promotion and protection of human rights," the Iranian statement said.
"As a country frequently targeted by highly sophisticated vicious cyber attacks, often orchestrated by certain States, Iran has every right and reason to strengthen its cyber space security," the Iranian response said.
"Contrary to the report (and its) assessments based on overly misleading information, this has nothing to do with the freedom of expression at all."
The Islamic republic tightened cyber security after its nuclear program was attacked in 2010 by the Stuxnet computer worm, which caused centrifuges to fail at its main uranium enrichment facility.
Tehran, whose nuclear program is suspected by Western powers and their allies of developing the capacity to produce weapons, accused the United States and Israel of deploying the worm.
Authorities said in April a computer virus was detected inside the control systems of Kharg Island - which handles the vast majority of Iran's crude oil exports - but the terminal remained operational.
Communications and Technology Minister Reza Taqipour said last month that Iran needed to develop its own network to ensure the safety of the country's information.
Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and has refused to halt it despite increasingly draconian U.N. and Western sanctions.
Shaheed is in New York to present his annual report on rights in Iran to the U.N. General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights.
His report details how rights activists in Iran face beatings with batons, mock hangings, rape and threats that family members will be raped or killed.
Earlier this week Shaheed, a former Maldives foreign minister, reported that minority religions in Iran continue to face persecution.
Tehran has so far not granted Shaheed access to the country. In its response, the Islamic republic said his overall report was biased, selective and "fails to reflect the actual situation of human rights in Iran."
(Editing by Xavier Briand)