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Iranians Obsessed With 'Immoral' Websites On Ashura

Ashura mourners light candles in Tehran (file photo)

Ashura mourners light candles in Tehran (file photo)

What kind of websites do you think Iranians in the capital visited most on Ashura, commemorated by Shi'a as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad?

"Immoral" websites, according to an official with Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

"Based on some figures regarding the use of immoral websites by web users during noon on Ashura, among 182 countries, Tehran ranked first and Shiraz was in 15th place," Ebrahim Bayani, a deputy IRGC Intelligence chief, was quoted as saying on August 26 by the semi-official Fars news agency.

Bayani also said that, according to findings by the IRGC's Cyber Army, Tehran, Yazd, and Isfahan provinces ranked first, second, and third in terms of visits to "immoral sites."

It isn't clear whether the Ashura day figures were also the result of the work of IRGC’s Cyber Army.

Bayani said that with such "shocking" figures as well as satellite channels, how can Iranian youth have any motivation to go to the mosque and practice religion?

He didn't give any examples of the "immoral" websites that are apparently so popular among Iranians. In general, the adjective "immoral" -- when used by Iranian officials -- doesn't necessarily mean pornographic. For example, a water fight in Tehran was recently branded as immoral. Anything that is related to young people having fun in public is often branded as immoral.

When I grew up in Tehran, smoking or laughing out loud in public were considered immoral, especially for young women.

Iran blocks access to tens of thousands of websites that it considers immoral or damaging. They include, for example, Facebook and the website of Radio Farda, RFE/RL’s Persian service, which provides news and analysis about Iran and other countries. Iranians use antifiltering tools to access the banned sites.

Bayani accused "Iran's enemies" of using "cultural tools," including pornographic websites and satellite channels (which he said are growing like mushrooms), to distance people from religion and damage the establishment. Some observers, however, believe that the forceful methods Iran uses to make young people follow state-imposed religious principles has the opposite effect.

Bayani's comments, which first appeared on Farsnews, seem to have been removed from the agency’s website. Yet they are still available on other websites and bloggers have saved a screen grab of the page where his comments appeared.

(Hat tip to "Digarban," which was one of the first sites to pick up Bayani's comments.)

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.