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Page last updated at 10:25 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 11:25 UK

Iran rounds up 'porn site bosses'

By Ali Asghar Ramezanpour
BBC Persian

Porn site bosses arrested
Suspects include Iranians who lived abroad alleged to have foreign backing

In its biggest crackdown of pornographic web sites, Iran has arrested 26 men and women on a wide array of charges from producing adult and child porn content to mocking Islamic beliefs.

The arrests, made by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, also marks another operational change for a complex military organisation.

The Guards not only make long-range missiles and run businesses in Iran, but they are also accused of supporting militants from Iraq to Lebanon and trying to militarise Iran's nuclear programme.

The special Guards unit for fighting organised internet crimes announced in late March that its task force had closed down 90 porn sites.

Since then it has regularly updated the details of the operation by publishing and broadcasting what it says are the confessions of the people accused of managing the sites.

Over half of internet users in Iran have admitted searching for porn and about one third of them do it every day
Saeed Madani

They are accused of promoting orgies and incest, illegally uploading sex clips of young girls, and ridiculing Shia Islamic beliefs such as the death of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

One of the people arrested is accused of writing hardcore erotic stories, a taboo in a strictly censored country which is marking the 30th anniversary of becoming an Islamic state.

Among those arrested are at least two Iranian men and one woman who used to live abroad, but whose friends say were tricked into coming home and then arrested.

Others were caught after their e-mails were intercepted by the task force, says Ali Rahnama, a journalist in Tehran quoting sources close to the operation.

The Guards say the group was supported by foreign countries including the US, Canada and Israel. But the sites seem merely to be hosted by private companies in these countries.

Trojan horse

Iran has a very young population, many born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the US-backed Shah and brought to power a theocracy vehemently opposed to Western values and liberties.

The strict control of piety is difficult to enforce, however.

So recently, the Guards were ordered to combat what Iranian officials called "soft subversion".

The fear of many in government is that the US, instead of going for a regime change policy through military invasion, is trying to undermine the young population by instilling liberal values, seen as decadent in the Islamic Republic.

Although access to porn websites is blocked in Iran, many people manage to access them.

One of the busted porn sites had 300,000 registered Iranian users and some of the adult video clips were downloaded at least six million times, according to the Guards.

With a population of over 70 million, Iran has 12 million internet users.

Front page coverage
Porn arrests: front page news in Iran

"Over half of internet users in Iran have admitted searching for porn and about one third of them do it every day," says Saeed Madani, a sociologist in Tehran

Since boys and girls are banned from socialising freely in Iran, demand for online adult content has exploded in big cities where internet access has become widespread, Mr Madani adds.

Experts say, in a mainly traditional society like Iran, the internet has revolutionised young people's lifestyle so dramatically that some hardliners, including conservative bloggers, have called for much tougher regulation and policing of the web.

Three months before the arrests were made public, Haj Reza, a blogger supporting Iran's hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called porn sites the Trojan horse of his country's Western enemies and urged the government to combat them.

But some experts are not optimistic about the results of these crackdowns.

Behnam Ohadi, a sexologist in Tehran, says the recent operation is too late.

Iran lacks a coherent sex policy and that has contributed to the high demand for porn content, including child pornography in Iran, adds Mr Ohadi.

He says most of his patients are people whose problems are caused by 30 years of suppressing normal sexual desires.



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