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Young Iranians' online activities are being subjected to closer scrutiny by the authorities.
Iran’s cyberpolice say they have arrested four administrators of a Facebook group called “Daaf and Paaf,” which had launched an online beauty competition.

The chief of the cyberpolice, Kamal Hadian, made the announcement on January 30 in a press conference in Tehran.

He said the force had “destroyed” the group, which he accused of spreading corruption and immorality.

The cyberpolice also posted a note on the group's Facebook wall in which it said that the two women and two men who administered the page have confessed to their crimes.

“In the name of God, we inform you that the page 'Daaf and Paaf' is now under the control of [the cyberpolice]," the note said. "The four main managers of this group have been identified and arrested on the charge of inciting and encouraging individuals to access vulgar content through the Internet.”

Under the note by the cyberpolice, many users have left comments condemning the move, sometimes using pejorative language.

“You...took away the right of the youth to be happy in the streets; they are all sitting at home spending their days and nights having online fun. Now you have an issue with this too?" wrote one user.

Others targeted Iran’s supreme leader with comments such as “Down with Khamenei! Down with the dictator!”

Fears Of A Clampdown

The Facebook group had called on its 27,000 fans to send in pictures to take part in a competition for choosing “hot” Iranian men and women.

The wall of the group is filled with the pictures of young Iranians of both sexes who are identified only by their first names.

It is feared that any Iranian residents in these photos could now be identified and prosecuted by the authorities, who are intent on cracking down on such "immoral" use of social media.

Iran has in recent months increased its scrutiny of its citizens' online activities.

Earlier this month, new restrictions for Internet cafes were announced, which included installing security cameras and collecting the personal data of their customers, who are usually young people.

Last year at least two individuals were sentenced to prison because of their postings on Facebook.

Facebook is one of the most popular social-networking sites among Iranians, which they access using antifiltering tools.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari
Iran's superannuated Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati
"Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the powerful Guardians Council, is Iran’s oldest man. No one knows when he was born. He is said to have been on planet Earth before all of us, even before Adam and Eve..."

That's the gist of numerous jokes that are making the rounds about the senior cleric who is in his mid- eighties.

“Jannati has a copy of the Torah signed by Moses,” is how one joke goes.

Another one has Jannati speaking to scientists: "For you the Big Bang is just a theory," he says. "For me it's a memory.”

In a similar vein, another joke has Ayatollah Jannati talking to the Fars news agency about his memories of the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The jokes seem to be a reaction to Jannati’s three decades on Iran’s political scene and his status as one of the country’s key players.

As the chairman of the Guardians Council since 1988, Jannati has played an active role in banning any attempt at political reform and disqualifying reformist and liberal election candidates.

Sociologist Saeed Peivandi believes the continuation of Jannati's “negative role” and his disconnectedness with the realities of Iran and its young population are among the main reasons for the many jokes making fun of his age.

“There are other figures who have been involved in Iranian politics for as long as [Jannati], even if they might not be as old as him" he says. "Nonetheless, they have changed their positions and have also altered their views, which have been evolving over time. But the only one who seems to be repeating the same old views like a tape recorder is Jannati. This can be hard for the public to take and they see jokes as the only way to confront it.”

Conservative Media Hit Back

The number of jokes about the uncharismatic cleric and their quick dissemination through word of mouth, text messages, and social media, has elicited a response from some conservative media.

Last week, the “Panjere” weekly, which is associated with a conservative lawmaker, said that the jokes are an “election plot” aimed at damaging the Guardians Council.

“Why has Ayatollah Jannati been targeted by so many jokes in the past few months?" it asked. "Do they want to slowly erode his scientific and political record?”

Mohammad Mousavi Khoeniha, a former Iranian official and the head of the reformist Association of Combatant Clerics, recently poked fun at Jannati on his website when he was asked about the upcoming March Parliamentary elections.

“There are two permanent things in this world,” he wrote. “One is a good reputation; the other is Ayatollah Jannati.”

Jokes About Leaders Are Nothing New

Iranians have always made fun of their leaders. In the early years after the 1979 revolution, many jokes targeted Ayatollah Montazeri the designated successor of the founder of the Islamic republic who later became a top dissident and was put under house arrest.

In the jokes, Iranians poked fun at Montazeri who was perceived as naive. The grand ayatollah who later became known as the Godfather of the Green Opposition movement, acknowledged the jokes in an interview that was aired after his death by the Persian Service of the BBC.

In recent years, Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been the butt of many jokes, which are often related to his appearance or to some of his controversial and unusual statements.

It appears now, however, that Jannati has replaced him on the joke scene.

As the “Baztab” weekly reported, the jokes about the cleric started last year, after the Guardians Council dismissed a rumor that Jannati had passed away following some serious health issues.

The incident probably gave some Iranians the impression that the hard-line cleric, who sometimes leads Tehran’s Friday Prayers, would stay with them forever.

The impression is reflected in a number of jokes about how the angel of death, Azrael, has been unsuccessfully making elaborate plans to send Jannati to the afterworld.

One joke fresh from Tehran has Azrael asking other archangels for help in catching Jannati.

"Gabriel, you stand at the top of the street," he says. "Michael, please stand in the middle of the street, Israfel and I will stand at the other end.”

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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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.

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