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Cut-Offs Hamper Iran Communications, Social Sites

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 11.02.2010 14:28

(RFE/RL) -- Revolution Day will not be tweeted. Not entirely, at least.

Internet, mobile phone, e-mail, and SMS services in Iran have reportedly been disrupted, apparently in an attempt by authorities to prevent opposition activists from communicating and organizing protests.

Iran has been marking the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with a huge rally of government supporters in Tehran and smaller opposition counterprotests in the capital and elsewhere.

The son of opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi said it was very difficult to reach anyone in the capital by mobile phone.

Because of that, Mohammad Taghi Karrubi told RFE/RL's Radio Farda, he had no news from opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi and his wife.

"Unfortunately, communication networks are not operating properly today and it’s very difficult to reach anyone, so so far we don’t know from what part of the city Mr. [Musavi] and Mrs. Zahra Rahnavard have joined the demonstrations - or whether they have had an opportunity to do so," Karrubi said. "Unfortunately, we don’t have any information about it because mobile phones are off. We have tried to call them but all our efforts to reach them were unsuccessful."

Key Opposition Tool

Cell phone and email messages emerged as a key form of communication for Iran's opposition in the protests that erupted after last year's disputed reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian authorities have banned foreign and domestic journalists from covering many events since the unrest began, prompting many opposition supporters to use SMS messages and emails to organize demonstrations and disseminate news and images.

Google-owned YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other social-networking services have been flooded with blog posts, videos, and text messages relaying opposition activities inside the country.

But authorities have sought to clamp down, with Iran's police chief last month warning against using SMS text messages and emails to organize antigovernment rallies.

Telecommunication disruptions were also reported ahead of today’s revolution commemorations, including slow Internet speed.

The Iranian telecommunication authorities explained that an optical line passing under the Persian Gulf had been damaged by the anchor of a ship, and that it would be fixed after the celebrations of Islamic Revolution’s anniversary.

"I wonder why our Internet cables are just hanging loose in the Persian Gulf, so that anyone who comes across them, kicks them, touches them, disconnects them, and [then just] leaves," an Iranian state television anchor said of the telecommunications disruption last week. "This is our understanding of the telecommunication statement on the reasons for the Internet disconnection. Perhaps they are telling the truth, however; our friends [from the telecommunication organization] are all honest and such."

Gmail 'Drop'

Radio Farda reports that many Internet users said they have been unable to log in to their account on Gmail -- Google's e-mail service -- since last week.

In a statement, Google said it had heard from users in Iran that they are having trouble accessing Gmail.

The California-based Internet firm also reported a "sharp drop in traffic" in Iran even though it said its networks there were operating "properly."

The statement came after "The Wall Street Journal" reported that Iran's telecommunications agency had announced a permanent suspension of Gmail.

The U.S. newspaper said the Islamic republic was instead planning to launch a new national e-mail service for Iranian citizens. The newspaper quoted an unidentified Iranian official as saying the measure was meant to boost local development of Internet technology and to build trust between people and the government.

The United States said it could not confirm the planned suspension of Gmail, but condemned what it called Iranian government efforts to erect "virtual walls."

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the Iranian government “seems determined to deny its citizens access to information, the ability to express themselves freely, network and share ideas." He added: "The Iranian people are dynamic and determined and will find a way to overcome the obstacles the Iranian government puts in their way."

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Report_Iran_Shutting_Down_Google_Email/1954667.html

Copyright (c) 2010. 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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