Friday, December 21, 2007


24 Internet cafés closed and 23 arrests as government steps up online

Reporters Without Borders condemns the closure of 24 Internet cafés in thecourse of a police operation in Tehran on 16 December in which 23 people,including 11 women, were arrested for “immoral behaviour.”
“This is further evidence of an even more radical government line on freeexpression, especially when women are involved,” the press freedomorganisation said. “The grounds for arresting these women were extremelyvague. They did nothing to threaten public morality. We firmly condemn thisattack on freedoms, and we call for the release of all 23 detainees and thereopening of the Internet cafés.”

The Tehran police said a total of 170 cafés and Internet cafés were warnedon 15 December that they were risking the possibility of closure.

The raids coincide with a reinforcement of the official campaign launchedin April against women violating the Islamic dress code. They are beingadvised not to wear “western-style” dress such as tight trousers or highboots, regarded as “inappropriate attire.” Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005, everyone’s physical appearance is supposed to respectIslam.

Cyber-feminists Maryam Hosseinkhah and Jelveh Javaheri are meanwhile stillbeing held in Evin prison in the northern outskirts of Tehran. Hosseinkhah,32, a journalist who writes for the websites Zanestan and WeChange, hasbeen held since 18 November. Javaheri, 30, was arrested on 1 December.

After charging them with publishing false information, disturbing publicopinion and “publicity against the Islamic Republic,” the authorities havedemanded very large amounts of bail (95,000 euros for Hosseinkhah and50,000 euros for Javaheri) to release them.

Iran is one of the strictest countries in the world as regards onlinefiltering and censorship. For the past year, all websites that offer newsabout Iran have been required to register with the culture ministry.According to the council of ministers, insulting Islam or othermonotheistic religions, spreading separatist ideologies, publishing falsenews or publishing news that invades privacy are all grounds for declaringa website illegal.

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