New York Times: The web sites of two senior clerics have been blocked by government censors, a possible sign of a hardening political divide at the highest level of Iran’s religious establishment.
The New York Times
By WILLIAM YONG
TEHRAN, Iran — The web sites of two senior clerics have been blocked by government censors, a possible sign of a hardening political divide at the highest level of Iran’s religious establishment.
The web sites of the clerics, Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Sanei and Grand Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat-Zanjani, who are both “sources of emulation,” the highest clerical rank in Shiite Islam, were first reported blocked by news sites linked with Iran’s political opposition movement on Sunday. The official site of a third top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali-Mohammad Dastgheib, was reported blocked early last month.
While there was no official announcement that the sites had been blocked, Internet users who attempted to access them on Monday were automatically redirected to a standard Iranian government filtering page which offers links to government-authorized web sites such as marriage advice sites, state-run news services and the official web site of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In response, an announcement on the top page of Grand Ayatollah Sanei’s web site, which can only be accessed in Iran with the aid of illegal anti-filtering software, stated that the offices of the Grand Ayatollah were still be open to serve his followers in the fields of “worship, politics and cultural resistance against oppression.”
“Let it not go unsaid that freedom of expression is emphasized under Islam,” the statement reads.
The fresh restrictions on the clerics’ web sites appears to be a further sign of the widening gulf between Iran’s leadership and top ayatollahs who have refused to align themselves with an increasingly authoritarian regime.
“Filtering their sites is precisely because of the public positions that they have taken,” said Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and a political columnist for Tehran Bureau, a news website for the Iranian diaspora. “This is part of the ‘cyberspace war’ that the hardliners have publicly announced against the Green Movement and its supporters.”
Many of Iran’s top-ranking clerics refused to congratulate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following his disputed reelection last year, which many consider to have been fraudulent.
Both Grand Ayatollah Sanei and Grand Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani have openly condemned the violent crackdown on street protests that followed the disputed election and Ayatollah Dastgheib became the target of attacks by hardliners when he issued a taboo-breaking call to Iran’s Assembly of Experts, of which he is a member, to exercise its constitutionally enshrined responsibility to review the performance of the Supreme Leader.
Attempts to suppress clerical opposition to the government have not been limited to the Internet. In recent months, pro-government militia members have attacked the offices of Grand Ayatollah Sanei and Grand Ayatollah Dastgheib, as well as the offices of the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, who became a rallying figure for the opposition movement following last year’s election and whose funeral in December became the scene of clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces.
News of the filtering of the clerics’ websites comes at a time when pro-government media outlets are anticipating a visit by Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, to the religious city of Qom, home to Iran’s most important Shiite religious schools. Opposition web sites have speculated that delays to the visit are due to difficulties in ensuring an adequate show of support for the Supreme Leader among leading clerics.
Ayatollah Khamenei has long been at odds with top religious authorities due to his lack of the formal qualifications previously considered necessary for holding the position of “Supreme Jurisprudent,” as stipulated under the political philosophy of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Khamenei’s predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini.