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Authorities step up control of Internet, block access to websites, including RFI and Deutsche Welle

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the wave of censorship that has hit many Iranian and foreign Farsi-language websites since 24 January 2009. Most of the sites contain articles critical of the government and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose term expires on 12 June. International news media websites have also been blocked since 26 January.

"After directly targeting human rights activists, the authorities are now stepping up their control of the Internet, one of the few areas of freedom for Iran's citizens," Reporters Without Borders said. "Internet filtering is not new in Iran but we are worried about the scale it has assumed and the fact that it is affecting all the main cities. We call for an end to the sanctions against these websites, which are sources of news and information."

The Farsi-language site of the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle ( ) has been inaccessible since 26 January, as has the Farsi version of the Radio France Internationale site ( ) and the Arabic-language site of the satellite TV station Al Arabiya ( ).

According to tests conducted by Reporters Without Borders on 26 and 27 January, the blocking is affecting the cities of Tehran, Qom, Ahvaz, Karaj, Tabriz, Bousher, Meshedd and Shiraz (see map on ).

Bahman Hedayati, the editor of the Parsine website ( ), described the blocking of his site as "illegal" in an interview on 26 January for the Iranian news agency ILNA. The literary website Haftan ( ) was blocked the same day by certain Internet Service Providers without any explanation. Iran's leading literary critics have for the past three years been writing for the site, which is very popular with young Iranians.

Several news websites that criticise the government or belong to potential rivals of President Ahmadinejad have also been rendered inaccessible by ISPs since 24 January. Farda News ( ) and Parsine, sites that support Tehran mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, a future Ahmadinejad rival, are among those that have been blocked.

Meanwhile, cyber-feminists Parvin Ardalan, Jelveh Javaheri, Maryam Hosseinkhah and Nahid Keshavarz were summoned before a Tehran appeal court again on 27 January. Calling for their convictions to be quashed, their lawyer, Masomeh Sotoudeh, said that articles defending women's rights were not "anti-government propaganda" nor did their publication constitute a "subversive activity".

The four cyber-feminists were sentenced last September to six months in prison for contributing to the online newspapers "Zanestan" ("Women's City" - ) and "Tagir Bary Barbary" ("Change for Equality" - ).

For further information on the four cyber-feminists' case, see:

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