Iran's telecommunications ministry denied a reformist newspaper report Sunday, June 24, that it has prohibited under-18s from going to Internet cafes. "There has been a misunderstanding," Reza Sadri, director of the Data Communication Company of Iran, the ministry's offshoot charged with providing internet services, told AFP.
He said the ruling only blocked Iranians under 18 from opening cyber-cafes. But Sadri did not dispute other portions of the Hambastegi newspaper's report that indicated a government campaign to censor the Internet and limit access to it.
Hambastegi printed Sunday alleged government regulations that forbade internet cafes "to provide their services to youth under 18" and ordered all internet companies, including service providers, to block access to any web sites "carrying a threat to national security, national defense and religion."
Sites or information in favor "of the opposition, the consumption of drugs, and all other subjects affecting public modesty are forbidden," the text read. The Internet companies or cafes, which disregard the rulings, risk court action, Hambasteghi said.
Hambasteghi denounced the measures, mocking Internet censorship as "a waste of time." reporting on Hambasteghi's story, the state IRNA news agency wrote: "The state telecommunications company has dashed the growing hopes of ... (the) youth population by slapping a ban on internet access for those under 18 years old."
On May 13, Hambasteghi reported that the police had closed around 400 cyber cafés across Tehran, which the police immediately denied, saying they had shut only 15 cafes for operating without a proper license.
The authorities had demanded that all Internet cafes obtain a proper work permit and Internet license, and issued warnings to around 250 of them. A trade union for computer and business-machine operators, controlled by conservatives, has been charged with vetting cafe owners for the special licenses.
After having been branded the "satanic web" by the Islamic regime for most of the 1990s, the Internet has gained popularity since the 1997 election of moderate President Mohammad Khatami, who has moved to liberalize Iranian society in the face of stiff conservative opposition.
Internet cafes have sprung up across Tehran and other major cities. In Tehran alone, Iranians can choose between a variety of "coffee nets" ― some open round the clock ― to meet friends, drink cappuccino and surf the Web.
Sadri placed the number of Iranian subscribers, counting both Internet cafes and private users at over 300,000, more than double the figure of 120,000 from one year ago. But he put the number of Internet cafes at around 500, which is a major drop from the previous estimate of 1,200. ― (AFP, Tehran)
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