Iran shuts down website critical of president

An Iranian website fiercely critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been shut down in an apparent fresh crackdown on anti-government dissent on the Internet.

Baztab, a fundamentalist site that has previously accused Mr Ahmadinejad of betraying the Islamic revolution by attending a female dance show, has been closed for acting against the constitution and undermining national unity.

The order coincided with the confirmation of Gholamhossein Elham, who has voiced support for legal restraints on press freedom, as Iran's new minister of justice. Mr Elham, previously the government's official spokesman, last year urged prosecutors to pursue news outlets that printed "lies" about Mr Ahmadinejad's government.

His appointment came as the government disclosed new measures to monitor and restrict unofficial news websites.

Baztab - which is linked to Mohsen Rezai, a former revolutionary guard commander - is one of Iran's most widely read political sites. It has been a staunch critic of the government's economic policies, which have produced surging inflation and high unemployment.

The website also posted video footage purportedly showing Mr Ahmadinejad watching a female dance performance at the recent Asian Games in Qatar, in breach of Iran's Islamic prohibition on women dancing in front of men.

In a statement, the culture and Islamic guidance ministry, controlled by Mr Ahmadinejad's government, said: "Considering the large amount of such material, [Baztab] was recognised as an illegitimate Internet site and its continued activity is illegal and banned."

Access to the site is now blocked on most Iranian Internet service providers.

Baztab has denounced the ban as illegal and pledged to fight it. Foad Sadeghi, a member of its policy board, said: "The government is acting as complainant, prosecutor, judge and executioner. The order violates eight principles of the constitution and restricts the media's freedom of expression, which does not serve the people in the current sensitive situation."

Baztab is one of several sites to criticise Mr Ahmadinejad's policies recently, including blaming his approach to Iran's nuclear programme for bringing the country closer to confrontation with the west.

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