Iranian Activists Criticize New Restrictions on Web Sites
By Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post Foreign Service, Wednesday, May 21, 2008; A09
TEHRAN, May 20 — Iranian bloggers and activists on Tuesday condemned a move by a government panel to block access to several Web sites related to women’s issues and human rights.
‘It’s like a big attack,’ said Parvin Ardalan, who works for http://www.change4equality.net, a Tehran-based feminist Web site affected by the new restrictions. ‘Now, most sites related to women’s and human rights issues have been blocked in one day,’ she said.
Ardalan’s site is part of a campaign to collect 1 million signatures aimed at pressuring the government to change what activists call discriminatory laws against women. ‘The authorities want to silence us,’ she said.
Web sites maintained by opposition groups, dissidents and even some supporters of the government have been blocked in the past. Iran also bars access to thousands of Web sites that show pornography.
The Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture’s supervisory board for the media notified Iranian Internet service providers Saturday about the new restrictions, which affected dozens of sites, according to a report Tuesday in Ettemaad-e Melli, a newspaper in Tehran that is often critical of the government.
The supervisory board answers to the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, which determines the country’s educational, scientific, cultural and social objectives. The 36-member council sets parameters for what is allowed on the Iranian Internet, but the board decides which sites should be blocked. It is unclear who sits on the board, although its members are thought to include representatives of the judiciary, the intelligence service and other government agencies.
The board has in the past effectively banned Web sites supportive of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Access to a blog by the wife of government spokesman Ghollam-Hossein Elham was restricted this year. Elham said that access was blocked because of his wife’s critical articles about Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and powerful anti-Ahmadinejad politician.
‘The limits of the filtering are pornography and anti-revolutionary sites. This is illegal censorship,’ Elham said to the Khorasan newspaper in April.
The blog is now accessible in Iran, but some other sites supportive of the government remain blocked.
‘Newspaper censorship, social oppression and filtering are not logical unless you look at them as sub-parts of overall oppression,’ said Asieh Amini, a journalist and activist in Tehran. Her blog, http://varesh.blogfa.com, has been blocked since Saturday.
From 1999 to 2005, Iran’s judiciary closed dozens of newly founded newspapers critical of the government, prompting many journalists to move to the Web.
In 2003, Iranian authorities started restricting access to Web sites, a technique which can be bypassed by filter breakers or other tools to avoid digital censorship. These programs are slow, and filtered Web sites lose many readers.
According to Iranian blogging services, last year there were more than 700,000 blogs in Farsi, many of which are written from abroad.
‘It makes one really depressed to see his or her site being filtered, but it also shows that the authorities are afraid,’ said Jadi Mirmirani, a human rights activist.
‘It means: we do not tolerate any alternative news sources or any new ideas.'”