Sunday, May 24, 2009

Iran cuts access to Facebook as election looms

The blocking of the popular social networking site Facebook in Iran has prompted critics of the president to condemn it on Sunday as an apparent attempt to muzzle the opposition ahead of next month's election. - Spring 09 Coupon

Blogs and web sites such as Facebook have become important campaign tool for the leading reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, to mobilize Iran's critical youth vote before the June 12 balloting.

Iranian authorities often block specific web sites and blogs considered critical of the Islamic regime, but the timing of the latest clampdown suggested it was done to hobble opponents of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Facebook is one of the only independent sources that the Iranian youth could use to communicate," said Mohammed Ali Abtahi, a former vice president and now adviser to another pro-reform candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, a former parliament speaker.

Abtahi said the loss of Facebook — and possibly other web sites popular with reformists — will leave Iranians "forced to rely on government sources" such as state-run media before the election.

Ahmadinejad is in a four-way race for re-election against the two pro-reform candidates and fellow conservative Mohsen Rezaei.

The Internet and other technology have increasingly become part of Iranian political movements in the past decade.

During the last presidential race in 2005, information about rallies and campaign updates were sent by text message. In recent years, political blogs by Iranians in the country and abroad have grown sharply. Newcomers such as Twitter also are gaining in popularity.

Iranian officials did not comment on the reported block, while representatives for Facebook had no immediate response to queries either.

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