Tehran Blocks “UK for Iranians” Foreign Office Website


The Islamic Republic continues to engage in online warfare

Britain has accused the Iranian government of blocking access to a UK Foreign Office website intended to “reach out” to the country’s population.

In a statement on Sunday, UK Foreign secretary William Hague condemned the act of censorship. “We have no quarrel with the Iranian people and regret that the Iranian authorities fear their own citizens’ interaction and involvement with the outside world,” Hague said.

Behind the wall

The “UK for Iranians” website had been established “to explain the UK’s policies towards Iran, whether on human rights, the nuclear issue or developments elsewhere in the Middle East”. It was launched on 14 March, together with a Twitter account, as well as Facebook and Google+ pages. The website was blocked three days later, on 17 March.

The site was designed to offer some functions of the defunct British embassy. Britain does not have a physical presence in Tehran after an incident last year, in which a number of Iranian students stormed the embassy and pulled down the UK flag to protest against anti-Iran policies.

“UK for Iranians” is one of many websites blocked by the government of the Islamic Republic. Last month, Iranextended its censorship program to block encrypted websites located outside of the country that depend on the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, including some Google and YouTube pages.

And earlier this month, it emerged the BBC Persian service was disrupted by several cyber attacks, although the broadcaster withheld from directly accusing the Iran regime.

“Iran’s people have had to endure an ever-tightening stranglehold of censorship,” said Hague. “The blocking of our website is only a very small part of what Iranians undergo daily: millions of websites blocked, access to email services denied, international television channels jammed, films and theatre productions closed down, books unpublished, traditional Persian literature rewritten and newspapers banned.”

However, the Iranian government should not take all of the blame for the degrading relationship between the countries. Its state-run English language news channel Press TV was banned from British airwaves by media regulator Ofcom in January.

“The most rational thing to do is for the British government to fix its relations with Iran through diplomatic channels. History tells us that the Iranian people do not have positive recollection about Britain and its relations with Iran,” Siamak Morsadeq, an Iranian Jewish MP, told Press TV.

In his statement, Hague promised to look for other opportunities to engage with the Iranian people. Yet a message on @UKforIranians Twitter channel is continuing to promote the campaign’s Facebook and Google+ pages. “We’ll keep pressure on Iran to open up Internet, while being creative in reaching Iran’s people wherever they are online,” reads another message.

Many Iranians use VPN and the anonymous Tor network to continue accessing blocked websites.

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