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Iran blocks more websites as censorship reigns

Access to Radio France Internationale, BBC and other prominent news websites have been restricted

Iranian authorities are stepping up efforts to control the media by blocking access to several prominent international news websites.

The Farsi websites of Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Deutsche Welle (DW) radio have now been blocked, according to state daily Etemad Melli. It follows earlier restrictions to the Persian service of the BBC, Voice of America (VOA) and US-funded Radio Farda.

An official in the Iranian judiciary said last year that more than five million websites were being filtered by authorities since they "inflict social, political, economic and moral damage, which is worrying."

Aside from blocking specific political, human rights and news websites, as well as opinionated blogs, the ban also targets popular networking and content-sharing sites such as Facebook and YouTube.

In a reflection of the government’s strong stance, cyber-feminists Parvin Ardalan, Jelveh Javaheri, Maryam Hosseinkhah and Nahid Keshavarz were sentenced last September to six months in prison for posting articles defending women’s rights through the online newspapers 'Zanestan' (Women’s City) and 'Tagir Bary Barbary' (Campaign for Equality).

Despite obvious pressure, Bahman Hedayati, the editor of the Parsine website - www.parsine.com - has gone on record to describe the latest blocking of his site as “illegal” in an interview with the Iranian news agency ILNA last week. Parsine is known to support Tehran mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, a future Ahmadinejad rival.

International human rights group Reporters Without Borders has strongly condemned the latest censorship move, where “most of the sites contain articles critical of the government and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad...”

“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,” a statement from the group read.

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