Iranian police shut Internet cafés

"Four hundred cyber cafes have been closed," said Sina Bahadori a customer service representative at ISP (Internet service provider) Neda Rayaneh Institute, reached by phone at the organisation's Tehran office. Police plan to continue the raids in the entire country on Thursday and next week, he added, closing all remaining cyber cafés.

Asked whether users are upset about the move, he said, "No, it's no problem, because these cyber cafés are in opposition to the government."

Neda, which describes itself as "the only prominent private sector ISP in Iran," plays a role in helping Iran's "official decision makers" make Internet access policy, according to the institute's Web site.

A spokesman at the Iranian consulate in Berlin declined to comment on the reported closures. "There are always reports like this, always bad ones, that get passed on (by the media)," he said.

Cyber cafés and Internet use began to flourish in Iran after the election of reformist President Mohammed Khatami in 1997, according to the Paris-based free-speech group Reporters sans Frontières (Reporters without Borders, or RSF).

"The cyber cafés were an easy means to communicate with (people) outside Iran and to be informed via foreign web sites. In closing them down, the hard-liners show once again that they want to prevent Iranian citizens and especially the youth from being freely informed," the group said in an open letter protesting the closures.

The government controls Web content through its official ISP, Data Communication Company of Iran (DCI), which attempts to filter pornographic sites and the sites of political opposition groups, she said. Private ISPs, which must be approved by the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Islamic Orientation, also have a filtering system for sites and e-mail.

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Rick Perera

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