By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
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.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Filter not, lest ye be filtered.
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 head 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.
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