Iran Cracks Down on Worldwide Web

Dennis Faas's picture

On Sunday, Iranian police shut down 24 Internet Cafes and arrested 23 people, including 12 men and 11 women. According to Tehran's police agency, more than 400 establishments were inspected and approximately 170 warnings were handed out the day before the crackdown began. (Source:

"Using immoral computer games, storing obscene photos...and the presence of women wearing improper hijab were among the reasons why [the Internet cafes] have been closed down," said provincial police commander Colonel Nader Sarkari. (Source:

The move is part of a larger effort to root out behavior seen as inconsistent with Islamic values. This has included crackdowns on clothing where police have advised women not to wear "western-style" dress such as tight trousers or high boots, regarded as "inappropriate attire." Police enforcement has increased since the 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who promised to reinvigorate the values prevalent during the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Like China, Iran blocks many of the websites it deems inappropriate. Despite the restrictions, most citizens are frequent Internet users, often entering chat rooms to interact with members of the opposite sex. As in other Islamic countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, men and women are not allowed to socialize outside of marriage. The government does not look kindly on this type of activity.

Advocacy group Reporters Without Borders recently commented on the situation, stating, "This is further evidence of an even more radical government line on free expression, especially when women are involved. The grounds for arresting these women were extremely vague. They did nothing to threaten public morality. We firmly condemn this attack on freedoms, and we call for the release of all 23 detainees and the reopening of the Internet cafes."

The Internet as a whole has been of great concern to the Islamic republic. This week, two Iranian feminists, Jelveh Javahari and Maryam Hosseinkhah, are due in court to face charges relating to the One Million Signatures Campaign to End Discrimination Against Women project. Both women use the web as a resource to disseminate feminist views; Javahari is the editor of the website 'Hastiya' and Hosseinkhah is a blogger.

The recent crackdown follows a move by Syria in November when the country shut down access to Facebook as a means to restrict free speech and political activism. Many young Syrian found ways around the block using proxy servers and seeking 'refuge' at Internet cafes in neighboring Lebanon. But with a highly educated and vocal population in Iran, one wonders how long the people will be able to tolerate these new restrictions.

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