Iran General NewsIran bans 5 web sites for news comments

Iran bans 5 web sites for news comments

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AP: Iranian authorities banned five Web sites that comment on current events for “poisoning” public opinion ahead of the crucial mid-March parliamentary elections, the state radio reported on Thursday. The Associated Press

By NASSER KARIMI

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian authorities banned five Web sites that comment on current events for “poisoning” public opinion ahead of the crucial mid-March parliamentary elections, the state radio reported on Thursday.

The move came two days after Iran’s hard-line constitutional watchdog reinstated more than 280 candidates, including 70 reformists, for the polls. Reformists have complained the reversal was insufficient to ensure a fair election.

In the past, the authorities have occasionally closed down some of the hundreds of private Web sites that comment on Iranian news and politics. But this was the first time they closed down five at once — a reflection of growing tension ahead of the March vote.

Even though the sites closed are thought to be either hardline or conservative, the move could also reflect an eagerness by the authorities to silence disparate voices to push through as critique-less a polling as possible.

The radio said Tehran General Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, ordered the ban because the Web sites were “poisoning the electoral sphere.” It did not name any of the sites, but a report by Web site of state broadcasting company identified one of them as Nosazi, which in Farsi means Reconstruction. The site is considered hard-line and reflective of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s stance.

Earlier in February, Nosazi criticized Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, for his opposition to barring pro-democracy candidates from the election.

Khomeini’s name is revered across Iran and political factions or other groups rarely openly challenge members of his family, most of whom have stayed out of politics after his death in 1989. To say that the younger Khomeini was wrong can almost be considered taboo.

Calls placed to Iranian officials related to the Web shutdown were not immediately returned on Thursday, due to the start of the Muslim weekend in Iran.

The radio also said that two cultural advisers to Ahmadinejad denied any ties to Nosazi.

“Some accuse the government of having links with some Web sites. Any report on direct or indirect tie between the government and the Web sites is baseless,” the advisers, Mahdi Kalhor and Ali Akbar Javanfekr, said in a statement.

Last month, the Interior Ministry, run by hard-liners close to Ahmadinejad, disqualified more than 2,000 prospective candidates — most of them reformers — from running in the March elections.

Tuesday’s reinstating of hopefuls, including some reformists, for the parliament race, came after the Guardian Council, the country’s top body in charge of the elections, run by hard-liners close to Ahmadinejad, reversed the interior ministry ban. Out of the initial 7,200 prospective candidates registered, some 5,300 now remain in the running, including those reinstated, according to ministry figures.

The reinstating came amid growing criticism by both reformists and conservatives that a wide ban on eligible candidates would risk a low election turnout and undermine the polling.

The disqualification was reminiscent of 2004, when the Council barred thousands of reformists from running in that year’s parliament elections, allowing hard-liners to regain control of the 290-seat legislature. Reformists denounced the elections as a “historic fiasco.”

Key members of the council are hand-picked by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.

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