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Iran reopens Gmail accounts after official complaints

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 1st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Iranians can now access their Gmail accounts after the government officially blocked it last week. Iran is notorious for having one of the strictest and largest Internet filters in the world, and the shutting down of Gmail accounts seems somehow to be linked to attempts blocking the YouTube site, which featured the anti-Muslim film "Innocence of Muslims."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Iranian government routinely blocks Web sites it considers criminal or immoral. The block on Gmail, however, prompted complaints in Iranian parliament.

"The council on Internet filtering communicated its order to the Telecommunications Ministry regarding the lifting of the ban on the Gmail service," Mohammad Reza Aghamiri, a member of the committee says.

Iranians contacted online say they have been able to access their Gmail account since this weekend.

Gmail was blocked throughout Iran on September 23, according to government officials, "until further notice," without giving further details.

Iranian news agencies said the ban was connected to the "innocence of Muslims" video posted on Google's video hosting site YouTube. That amateurish U.S. video caused outrage throughout the Arab world, and has been linked to terrorist acts that have claimed at least 30 lives. 

Iran has long blocked YouTube - but that hasn't detained those in Iran from surfing in if they choose. Many Iranians circumvent Internet restrictions with "virtual private network" (VPN) software that makes their computer seems to appear in another country.

Aghamiri had said last week that the blockage of Gmail services had been an unintended consequence of an attempt to reinforce the block on YouTube.

"We wanted to ban YouTube and then Gmail was cut off as well, and this was unintended," he says.

"We absolutely do not want YouTube to be accessible. Therefore the telecommunications ministry is trying to find a way to solve this problem so that it can block YouTube in the HTTPS protocol while leaving Gmail accessible."

The blocking of Gmail had prompted official complaints. Legislator Hossein Garousi threatened to summon Telecommunications Minister Reza Taqipour to parliament for questioning if it was not unblocked.

Many of Iran's Internet restrictions are related to the use of sites such as Facebook and YouTube to rally and publicize mass anti-government protests after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

Sites expressing anti-government views are routinely blocked in Iran.

The U.S.-based pro-democracy campaign group Freedom House, in a report last month said Iranian authorities were using "more nuanced tactics in a continued campaign against internet freedom" including "upgrading content filtering technology" and imposing harsh sentences for illegal online activities.

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