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Iran swipe at Web in attempt to block Gmail brings angry reply

By Nasser Karimi

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Sept. 30 2012 12:40 p.m. MDT

The Internet has steadily become part of Iran's fabric since the first Farsi-language sites developed a decade ago by Canadian-Iranian blogger Hossein Derakshan, who is considered one of the founders of Iran's social media community. Derakshan, however, was detained in 2008 and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison two years later as the battles heated up between liberals seeking open access to the Web and authorities trying to erect their own version of China's "Great Firewall," the name given to Beijing's extensive filtering and censorship of the Internet.

Sites such as Twitter and Facebook were pillars of the street revolts after the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The powerful Revolutionary Guard responded by recruiting and training its own cyber force to patrol the Web and, later, try to defend against virus attacks on nuclear and other sites that Iran has blamed on the West and its allies.

Some Web security experts also have raised the possibility of Iranian hackers being behind some recent high-profile computer attacks, such as disruptions at Saudi Arabia's state oil giant Saudi Aramco and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas earlier this month. Iran has denied any links.

In a video message for Iranian new year in March, President Barack Obama denounced what he called the "electronic curtain" that keeps ordinary Iranians from reaching out to Americans and the West.

A few weeks later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the creation of an Internet oversight agency that included top military, security and political figures in the country's boldest attempt yet to control the Internet. The panel is headed by Ahmadinejad and includes powerful figures in the security establishment such as the intelligence chief and the commander of the Revolutionary Guard.

It's not Iran's first attempt to hold off what hardliners call a Western "cultural invasion." The so-called Barbie wars have gone on for more than a decade with periodic raids to confiscate the iconic American dolls from toy stores. Iran also introduced its own dolls — twins Dara and Sara — designed to promote traditional values with modest clothing and pro-family values, but it hasn't significantly dented the demand for Barbie dolls.

Murphy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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