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Iran keeps an eye on the bloggers

By CNN's Erin McLaughlin

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(CNN) -- Iranian authorities are keeping a close eye on the Internet amid growing online access and the popularity of weblogs.

Government officials say they are only cracking down on pornography, but some weblogs have been blocked by Internet service providers (ISPs) who work closely with the government, a source told CNN.

The number of people in Iran with Internet access ranges from less than 1 million to as many as 5 million out of a population of nearly 70 million, according to various reports.

But the proportion is growing, and with it has come a rise in the number of Iranian bloggers.

One weblog under the name Hossein Derakhshan received 6,000 hits a day before the government blocked it, the Canadian-based author said in an e-mail to CNN.

The site contains musings with titles like "Five Things to Help Non-Iranians Know More About Iran," political observations and links to news stories.

"In absence of free papers, (weblogs) are performing an important role for spreading internal news that is very risky to publish in Iran," said Derakhshan.

He added that weblogs help young people in Iran socialize, date and keep in touch with exiled friends, help emerging writers publish their work, produce Persian content on search engines, introduce surfers to new technology -- and allow access to pornography.

The authorities are taking note.

Access was blocked to all blogs hosted on PersianBlog and Blogspot for 24 hours last week, a result of a technical glitch, a source from Parsonline, one of the 12 major certified ISPs in Tehran, told CNN.

'Not that tough'

But the Internet in Iran remains largely unregulated, and blocking is "not that invasive," said the source, who wished to remain anonymous. He said the government censored pornographic sites and sites it deemed anti-Islamic or anti-regime.

"I don't think it's very bad. If they filter porno sites I don't think it's going to kill anyone."

The source said that Parsonline and other ISPs worked closely with the government, which did not provide clear content guidelines, adding: "All the access lines and infrastructure belongs to the government."

When an official orders an ISP to block access to a site, the ISP does not tell the site author.

Mohamed Saeed Al Nu'mani, a spokesman for Iran's culture ministry, told CNN that while porn sites were blocked, he was not aware that other sites expressing religious or political opinions, including "sites that are against the general Iranian policy," had been hit.

He added: "If any political sites were blocked, then the reason would be that what they are offering is harming the national security or the unity of the country. But still things are not that tough."

Meanwhile, bloggers continue to promote freedom of speech in cyberspace.

Referring to the deaths of Iranian conjoined twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani, Ladysun, an English teacher in Tehran, wrote on July 9: "I see a big irony comparing the sad death of these most-ever-loved-in-Iran twins with the current events of Iran.

"Some people are ready to die for having their individuality back; some people are ready to kill, to take some others' individuality away."

-- CNN Arabic editor Caroline Faraj contributed to this report.


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