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Iran blocks Facebook as presidential election heats up

By Golnaz Esfandiari (source: RFE/RL)

Will Iran President's Rivals Lose Valuable Campaign Tool?

Moderate Iranian Candidate Criticizes Facebook Ban

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- A moderate challenger to hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has condemned the authorities for blocking access to the Facebook social networking site ahead of the June 12 presidential election.

Former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi said websites should be tolerated at "such a sensitive political period."

Iran's ILNA news agency and Facebook users are reporting that the social-networking website has been blocked in Iran by some ISPs, with just a few weeks to go before the country's presidential election.

Iran, whose authorities employ a variety of methods to impose tough Internet censorship, had seen Facebook unblocked in February.

Since then, an increasing number of Iranians inside the country have turned on to Facebook, to keep in touch or exchange information.

There is a whiff of irony in the fact that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has several fan pages on Facebook. On one, he has about 7,000 fans from several Muslim countries. (Ahmadinejad detractors have meanwhile created a Facebook page that has attracted 40,000 fans and boasts, "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.") But he had not been campaigning there in the narrow sense of the word.

Both reformist candidates, Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, have accused the Iranian state broadcaster of biased election coverage that favors Ahmadinejad.

Musavi supporters have used Facebook extensively -- and effectively, according to ILNA -- to promote him and his ideas. (Musavi is said to have his own Twitter account.)

Karrubi backers have put Facebook to use, too, to spread their candidate's views, albeit to a lesser degree.

On its surface, then, the blocking of Facebook looks like a government-inspired move to limit campaign-boosting activities among Ahmadinejad's challengers, since the incumbent has crucial support within effective dissemination tools like the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the state broadcaster.

It would be a particularly egregious move if you're among those who believe that voter apathy is key to an Ahmadinejad victory.

Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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