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Iran cuts access to Facebook as election looms

Posted by on May. 24, 2009 at 1:08 PM
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A supporter of leading reformist candidate in upcoming Iranian presidential AP - A supporter of leading reformist candidate in upcoming Iranian presidential elections, Mir Hossein Mousavi, ..
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran has blocked access to Facebook, prompting government critics on Sunday to condemn the move as an attempt to muzzle the opposition ahead of next month's presidential election.

Blogs and Web sites such as Facebook have become an important campaign tool for the leading reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, to mobilize Iran's critical youth vote before the June 12 balloting.

Iranian authorities often block specific Web sites and blogs considered critical of the Islamic regime, but the timing of the latest clampdown suggested it was done to hobble opponents of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Every single media outlet that is seen as competition for Ahmadinejad is at risk of being closed," said Shahab Tabatabaei, a top aide for Mousavi. "Placing limits on the competition is the top priority of the government."

Tabatabaei said the Facebook block was "a swift reaction" to a major pro-Mousavi rally Saturday in a Tehran sports stadium that included an appearance by former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and many young people waving green banners and scarves - the symbolic color of the Mousavi campaign.

"Facebook is one of the only independent sources that the Iranian youth could use to communicate," said Mohammed Ali Abtahi, a former vice president and now adviser to another pro-reform candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, a former parliament speaker.

Abtahi said the loss of Facebook - and possibly other Web sites popular with reformists - will leave Iranians "forced to rely on government sources" such as state-run media before the election.

Ahmadinejad is in a four-way race for re-election against the two pro-reform candidates and fellow conservative Mohsen Rezaei.

For its part Facebook described it as a "shame" when political concerns result in limits being placed on opportunities for online expression.

"We are disappointed to learn of reports that users in Iran may not have access to Facebook, especially at a time when voters are turning to the Internet as a source of information about election candidates and their positions," Elizabeth Linder, a spokeswoman for the social networking site, said in an e-mailed statement following questions from The Associated Press.

The Internet and other technology have increasingly become part of Iranian political movements in the past decade.

During the last presidential race in 2005, information about rallies and campaign updates were sent by text message. In recent years, political blogs by Iranians in the country and abroad have grown sharply. Newcomers such as Twitter also are gaining in popularity.

Iranian officials did not comment on the reported block.

"We believe that people around the world should be able to use Facebook to communicate and share information with their friends, family and co-workers. It is always a shame when a country's cultural and political concerns lead to limits being placed on the opportunity for sharing and expression that the Internet provides," Linder said.

Linder said the company generally does not give out details on the number of users in a given country, and could not say how many members Facebook has in Iran.


AP Business Writer Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.


by on May. 24, 2009 at 1:08 PM
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