Reporters Without Borders is outraged that the Iranian government is reinforcing and extending its online censorship and repression of netizens. Several news and information websites have been blocked in the past few days including those of two influential Grand Ayatollahs, which have been inaccessible in Iran since 3 October. Online women’s rights and student activists are among those who continue to be questioned and threatened.
It is now the ayatollahs’ turn to be censored. It seems that the Islamic Republic’s government, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supported by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, can no longer tolerate the views of some of Iran’s leading clerics. Their websites cater to spiritual needs and are far from being news outlets or sources of information about opposition politics. But they are being targeted by the government. By preventing Muslims from visiting these sites, the Islamic Republic is taking censorship to a new level.
The websites of Ayatollah Yusef Saanei (http://saanei.org/) and Ayatollah Asadollah Bayatzanjani (http://bayatzanjani.net/) were blocked on 3 October, as their offices have confirmed. Both are critical of the government and Supreme leader and both had often objected to the crackdown on protesters following President Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in June 2009.
The website of Ayatollah Sied Ali Mohammad Dastghib (http://www.dastgheib.ir/), another leading cleric, has been filtered for the past several months. Although a member of Assembly of Experts, which elects and supervises the Supreme Leader, he has criticised it on several occasions.
One of the latest online activists to be harassed is Noushin Ahamadi Khorasani, the editor of the Feminist School website, who was summoned and questioned on 22 September by the Fifth Chamber of the Tehran revolutionary court, located inside Evin prison, and was then released on bail.
A founder of the “One Million Signatures” online campaign for changes to laws that discriminate against women, Khorasani has received repeated summons since 2009 and is the victim of judicial harassment by the intelligence services. Her only crime is to have combated gender discrimination and fought for the right of women to express their views online, despite filtering, arrests and imprisonment.
The intelligence agencies have stepped up pressure on students and their news websites since the start of the academic year. Students who help to produce Advar News, a website linked to an independent student union called the Unity Consolidation Bureau, have been questioned and threatened with arrest in connection with what they have been writing for the site.
Several members and supporters of this union have been arrested and given long jail sentences in the past year or so. They include two journalists – Ali Malihi, who was arrested on 2 February 2010 and sentence to four years in prison, and Ahmad Zeydabadi, who was arrested on 14 June 2009 and sentenced to six years in prison.
Zeydabadi is this year’s winner of the Golden Pen of Freedom Award, which is issued by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). Journalist Akbar Ganji, a former political prisoner and winner of the award in 2005, will receive this year’s prize on Zeydabadi’s behalf at the WAN-IFRA annual congress in Hamburg today.