Iran closes down 5 Web sites over electoral disputes

>TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iranian authorities banned five Web sites that comment on current events for “poisoning” public opinion ahead of the crucial mid-March parliamentary elections, the state radio reported on Thursday.

The move is the latest for this election period, which has seen the Interior Ministry, run by hard-liners close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, disqualify more than 2,000 prospective candidates – most of them reformers.

About 280 of those candidates were reinstated Tuesday by the Guardian Council, Iran’s hard-line constitutional watchdog. But reformists have complained the reversal was insufficient to ensure a fair election.

In the past, the authorities have occasionally closed down some of the hundreds of private Web sites that comment on Iranian news and politics. But this was the first time they closed down five at once – a reflection of growing tension leading up to the vote.

The radio said Tehran General Prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, ordered the ban because the Web sites were “poisoning the electoral sphere.” It did not name any of the sites, but a report by the Web site of the state broadcasting company identified one of them as Nosazi, which, in Farsi, means Reconstruction. The site is considered hard-line and reflective of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s stance.

Earlier in February, Nosazi criticized Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, for his opposition to barring pro-democracy candidates from the election.

Khomeini’s name is revered across Iran, and political factions or other groups rarely openly challenge members of his family, most of whom have stayed out of politics after his death in 1989. To say that the younger Khomeini was wrong is almost considered taboo.

Calls placed to Iranian officials related to the Web site shutdowns were not immediately returned on Thursday, due to the start of the Muslim weekend in Iran.