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Several websites inaccessible; website director detained, released on bail

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned a fresh upsurge in censorship of the Iranian press in the immediate aftermath of 14 March 2008 legislative elections, in which conservative candidates retained control of parliament.

Several newspapers have been prevented from publishing and news websites have been made inaccessible. "Journalists themselves are being watched just as much as the news they put out," the worldwide press freedom organisation said, calling for banned newspapers to be allowed to reappear and for the unblocking of websites, "which are the only way for people to get access to independent news."

General news websites and and the Shiite news website have been inaccessible since 14 March. The director of Asriran said he thought the site had been censored because it posted an interview with a Hezbollah leader in Iran and with a representative of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Orientation.

A few days before the elections, the national and international media reported that the Iranian government planned to cut access to the Internet on polling day. Reformist websites complained of slower connections on that day, convinced that the government was blocking access to the "sole means of communications and news on the elections" ( ). The authorities denied it, saying that the slower speeds were due to the unusually high Internet use.

Director of the conservative website , Hassan Nobakhtian was on 14 March bailed in the sum of 50 million tomans (approx. 50,000 euros) by the 12th general court in Tehran, while awaiting trial. He was arrested on 25 February on the order of the Tehran prosecutor-general, Said Mortazavi, who ordered he be held in Evin jail. He is accused of mocking the position of young mullah, Hassan Khomeini, grandson of former supreme guide, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, during the election campaign. The website had been inaccessible since 14 February.

Elsewhere, several TV crews were prevented from covering the legislative elections. Accredited journalists were for example denied the right to film inside the interior ministry. Only pro-government media, the official news agency IRNA, Farsnews and state television were allowed easy access to polling stations.

The Press Authorisation and Surveillance Commission on 15 March announced a ban on nine newspapers, mainly dealing with culture and cinema, which the authorities accused of "insulting the Iranian people", by publishing "photos of foreign actresses which affronted decency". They were the monthlies "Baznegar" (Reappraisal) "Haft" (Seven), and "Shoka", the weeklies "Talash", "Bh soy Eftakhar" (Towards Honour) and "Nedai iran" (The voice of Iran), and the bi-monthlies "Donyai Tassvir" (The world of images) "Sobeh zendehghi" (the morning of life) and "Havar" (The shout) a bilingual Kurdish-Persian newspaper. A total of 13 newspapers have been banned from publishing in Iran since 1 January.

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