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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 13:59 GMT
Iranian bloggers rally against censorship
By Aaron Scullion
BBC News Online staff in Geneva

Iranian internet users have been venting their frustration at online censorship on a website devoted to the UN's digital summit in Geneva.

Internet cards
Net cards are sold everywhere in Iran
Hundreds of people have posted complaints online in the hope of reaching key summit delegates, after some web users in Iran found they could no longer access parts of the Google search engine.

The Iranian government's tight controls force net service providers to block thousands of political and pornographic websites.

A well-known Iranian blogger told BBC News Online that people hope they can increase the public pressure on the government in Tehran by using the summit blog.

Attention grabbing

Reports that Google's cache - which keep copies of websites for records and can be used to bypass government restrictions - was no longer available to some web surfers in Iran first surfaced at the end of last week.

Weblogs in Iran are a decentralised network of free information - that's why the officials do not like them very much
Hossein Derakhshan, Iranian blogger
Noted Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, now based outside the country, began to receive e-mails from his readers, and the story was soon published on a number of Iranian sites.

A weblog, dailysummit.net, picked up the story in advance of the beginning of the UN's digital summit, and was soon inundated with people trying to make their voice heard.

Mr Derakhshan, who was previously involved in the campaign to free a jailed Iranian blogger, said people want to "grab the attention of delegates and participants in Geneva."

"The Iranian officials are very defensive over these kind of things", said Mr Derakshan, "and if there is enough public pressure, they'd definitely change their attitudes."

Iran tightened controls on the internet earlier this year, ordering service providers to block thousands of websites.

But Mr Derakshan believes their attitudes could change if enough pressure is placed on the country's delegation in Geneva.

"EU delegates could play a great role in this - EU pressure once forced Iran to suspend the stoning law, and they could do it for the Net censorship too."

Hossein believes that despite the censorship, the popularity of weblogs in Iran played a key role in getting the story heard so quickly.

"Weblogs in Iran are a decentralised network of free information - that's why the officials do not like them very much". He added that what was written was linked to in many Persian blogs.

Ethical commitment

The web has become an important outlet as an alternative method of communication in Iran, where the authorities maintain a close watch on the media.

Screengrab of a site banned in Iran
Sites criticising government are frowned upon in Iran
Iran's conservative judiciary has banned a significant number of newspapers and magazines in the past three years, and several pro-reform publications have turned to the internet to get their message across.

Net service providers in Iran are not state-controlled, but the authorities often impose heavy penalties on any companies that fail to block access to the list of more than 10,000 sites.

Additionally, the authorities in Tehran are reported to be trying to the consolidate the market in Iran, so they will only have to deal with a few big clients rather than thousands of small net providers.

Speaking at the UN summit in Geneva, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told delegates that the key requirements of a knowledge based society are a "commitment to ethical values, human rights and principles of democracy".


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