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Iran disrupts internet access ahead of elections

Iran's internet access was disrupted on Monday, sparking worries that the country is censoring access ahead of national elections next week.

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Iranian clergyman Nematollah Daneshmand works on his laptop with a copy of the Koran next to him at his office in Qom. The country has disrupted internet access ahead of national elections next week. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran's access to the Internet was disrupted on Monday, after Iranians experienced several interruptions to e-mail and social networking sites last week, the Los Angeles Times reported

The spotty Internet access has sparked worries that Iran is engaging in censorship leading up to the country's national elections, which are set to take place on March 2, according to the Times. The Internet disruption comes less than two weeks after millions of Iranians lost access to their G-mail, Hotmail, and Yahoo e-mail accounts, CNET reported

“In the past few months, the filtering of some news websites not only has affected the efficiency of Internet in Iran, but has blocked easy access to information,” reformist analyst Mashallah Shamsolvaezin said in an interview with Aftabnews, an Iranian news outlet, on Sunday, the Times reported.

This blockade of the Internet affected international websites outside of Iran which display addresses beginning with "https," according to the Times. 

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"Email, proxies and all the secure channels that start with 'https' are not available," a Tehran-based technology expert who declined to be identified told Reuters. "The situation regarding accessing these websites is even worse than last week because the VPNs are not working."

Many Iranians use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to get around the government's Internet filter, which prohibits access to a wide range of websites such as foreign news sites and social networks like Facebook, according to Reuters. 

The government has not made an official statement regarding the disruption, CNET reported. 

Iranians have faced increased Internet censorship since the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when opposition supporters used social networking tools to organize protests, Reuters reported.

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Despite the obstacles, Internet use has increased drastically in Iran over the last decade. According to the most recent estimates from the United Nations agency for information technology, the percentage of Iranians who use the Internet has increased from 1 percent to 13 percent over the past 10 years. 

Iran's information minister told the Islamic Republic News Agency in January that the country would soon be implementing nationally firewalled Internet, CNET reported. The possibility of a government-controlled Internet has worried activists in Iran, as it would give officials increased power to censor Internet use. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/politics/elections/120220/iran-censors-internet-access-elections