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IRAN: Crackdown on cyber-dissidents continues

March 20, 2009 |  7:48 am

Omidrezamirsayafi_2Maybe it was just a coincidence.

But two concurrent incidents shed light on Iranian authorities’ crackdown against blogs and opinion websites.

On Wednesday, Iran’s official news agency announced that the Islamic Republic had crushed a network of allegedly anti-religious websites.

On the same day, international human rights groups said that a young blogger -- Omid-Reza Mirsayafi -- had died in jail, where he was serving a sentence for “insulting authorities” on his website.

In the statement, officials said that they had “succeeded in identifying and destroying an organized anti-religious and anti-cultural Internet network through a smart and accurate tracking operation.”

Describing the so-called intelligence operation as if it were an achievement worthy of James Bond, the statement said that authorities had put an end to these websites “through a set of complicated technical-intelligence operations.”

The Web pages in question were characterized as:

“... insulting religious sanctities and desecrating religious beliefs, insulting the Holy Koran and the innocent imams, promoting very deep ethical deviations in individuals and family members, advertising prostitution of Iranian girls, breaking the privacy of individuals, preparing hidden films and encouraging Iranian users to produce obscene and anti-religious contents.”

Authorities accused “intelligence services of foreign countries” of supporting the vicious network in order to carry out a “soft coup.”

Reporters Without Borders classified the Islamic Republic as one of 12 “enemies of the Internet” in a report last week.

The press-freedom watchdog said that Iran has itself declared blocking 5 million websites in 2008. The country blacklists a large number of websites regarded as “illegal.”

Despite the censorship, the country remains home to the most outspoken cyber-dissidents in the region, some of whom are serving jail sentences on political charges, the report said. 

A crackdown on political bloggers increased during the country’s run-up to the presidential election scheduled in June, the report added.

Tragically, on Wednesday, one of these bloggers, 29-year-old Omid-Reza Mirsayafi died in Tehran’s Evin Prison, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

The group suggested that Mirsayafi had committed suicide, quoting another prisoner and physician who said that the blogger was suffering from “deep depression” and had taken “extra doses of his medication.”

Mirsayafi was sentenced to two years and a half in prison for reportedly “expressing his opinions” on his private blog. 

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: Omid-Reza Mirsayafi. Credit: Reporters Without Borders

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