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Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Filter not, lest ye be filtered.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has apparently become the latest victim of Iran's Internet censorship regime -- to which he himself has given his blessing and approval.

The website Tabnak reports that Khamenei's "fatwa" on the illegality of using antifiltering tools in Iran was itself blocked in the country, some 30 hours after it was published on Iranian websites. The ruling was seemingly filtered because it contained the word "antifiltering," which triggered the country's censorship system to automatically block it.

The misfire prompted the conservative website to write, "The filtering of a [religious] order is so ugly for the executive [branch] that it can bring into question the whole philosophy of filtering."

Tabnak has close ties to Mohsen Rezai, the current secretary-general of the Expediency Council and former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters in the Islamic republic, issued the ruling after being asked about inaccessible websites by the semiofficial Mehr news agency.

Mehr wrote to Khamenei's office to say that some Iranians, because of their jobs -- including journalists -- need to visit blocked websites for news and information that is "usually not available on authorized websites." Mehr then asked what the religious ruling would be in such cases.

In his response, Khameni wrote: "In general, the use of antifiltering software is subject to the laws and regulations of the Islamic republic, and it is not permissible to violate the law."

In October, Iranian Telecommunications Minister Reza Taghipour said the use of antifiltering tools and virtual private networks (VPN) is a crime.

Iran has one of the toughest online censorship policies in the world. Many Iranians, including regime supporters, use proxies and antifiltering software to access blocked websites, including sites deemed immoral or against Iran's national interests. Among the tens of thousands of blocked pages are news and opposition websites.

Khamenei's ruling could create a dilemma for those among his hard-line supporters who browse blocked websites.

However, the fact that his ruling on filtering was itself filtered means that, absurdly, his followers must use antifiltering software to read his view on the illegality of antifiltering software.

Just another day in the Islamic republic.

--Golnaz Esfandiari
Many Iranians have complained of disruptions to Gmail and other "foreign" e-mail services in recent months.
Iran’s minister of communications and information technology, Reza Taghipour, has sent a letter to the head of the country’s Central Bank, Mahmud Bahmani, asking him to instruct banks to refrain from sending bank statements to e-mail addresses administered by foreign providers.

In his letter, Taghipour says that banned foreign e-mail providers include Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, and MSN.

The communications minister has called on banks to only accept national e-mail addresses from customers when they open accounts.

Taghipour has requested that banks provide access to the Internet for customers to be able to create national e-mail accounts at their premises.

The move appears to be aimed at forcing citizens to join the national e-mail system, which many Iranians have been reluctant to use.

Some Iranian websites have reported that the use of the national e-mail is obligatory for those working for the government and state institutions.

Iranians have complained several times in recent months that access to their Gmail and other foreign e-mail accounts has been disrupted.

These complaints came at a time when the Iranian media reported that the national e-mail system had been also disrupted.

Officials did not provide any explanation for the disruption, which angered many.

Iran's national e-mail system is part of efforts by Tehran to launch its own national Internet, which could further limit Iranians' access to the free flow of information online.

The latest edition of Freedom House's "Freedom of the Press" survey listed Iran in its usual place among the "worst of the worst."

Christopher Walker, vice president for strategy and analysis at Freedom House, told RFE/RL that the country’s government "defines itself by the ferocity of its crackdowns, both on online and traditional media."

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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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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