AFP: The United States on Wednesday criticized Iran for blocking Internet access to its new “virtual embassy,” saying the move showed the Islamic regime’s distrust of its own people.
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States on Wednesday criticized Iran for blocking Internet access to its new “virtual embassy,” saying the move showed the Islamic regime’s distrust of its own people.
After weeks of effort, the State Department on Tuesday unveiled the website aimed at ordinary Iranians and voiced confidence in its security. But within one day, Iranian authorities blocked public access to the site.
US officials said that they expected the Iranian action and voiced hope that some Iranians could still access the website, although they admitted that the vast majority of hits had come from outside Iran.
“Through this action, the Iranian government has once again demonstrated its commitment to build an electronic curtain of surveillance and censorship around its people,” the White House said in a statement.
“The Iranian government’s systematic efforts to deny information to its citizens — to control what the Iranian people see and hear –is doomed to fail in a 21st century when technology is empowering citizens around the globe,” it said.
The White House said it still sought a dialogue with the Iranian people based on “mutual interests, mutual respect and admiration for a great and ancient civilization.”
“The Iranian government should explain to its own people why it fears their ability to access the information that they choose,” it said.
President Barack Obama took office in 2009 offering talks with Iran to repair decades of tension. But the administration says its overtures were not returned and has focused on pressuring Tehran over its contested nuclear program.
The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Iranians overthrew the pro-Western shah and seized the US embassy for 444 days.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that Iran was welcome to set up a similar “virtual embassy” aimed at Americans.
Toner said that the virtual embassy’s Farsi- and English-language versions received nearly 500,000 hits in its first day, but that only 9,771 were detected to have come from within Iran.
He nonetheless voiced hope that more Iranians would find ways to circumvent the ban and access to the website, such as by going through virtual private networks, or VPNs.
Iranians typing in the address, http://iran.usembassy.gov/, received a message in Farsi saying: “In accordance with computer crime laws, access to this website is not possible.”
Alaeddin Borujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliamentary national security and foreign policy commission, called the website “a new deception by the Great Satan” which aimed to make Iranians believe Washington wanted to communicate with them.
The website offers information on travel to the United States and links to news from US-supported Voice of America, as well as statements on US policy aimed at dispelling Iranian suspicions about Washington.