LONDON (BNO NEWS) — The British government on Sunday accused Iran of blocking access to a foreign office website it launched earlier this week to reach out to the Iranian people. The Iranian government also blocked a similar website in December.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Iranian government blocked access to its ‘UK for Iranians’ website on Saturday, just three days after the website was launched in hopes of direct dialogue with the Iranian people. The website is similar to one launched by the United States last year, which Iran also blocked.
“I condemn this action by the Iranian Government,” Hague said on Sunday, adding that the website was launched to reach out to Iranians to explain and discuss UK policy. “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.”
In late December, the Iranian government added the ‘UK in Iran’ website of Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to its list of censored websites. It contained information about British government policies and statements, including criticism of the human rights situation in Iran and the country’s controversial nuclear program.
Hague on Sunday said the Iranian people have had to endure an ‘ever-tightening stranglehold of censorship’. “The blocking of our website is only a very small part of what Iranians undergo daily: millions of websites blocked, access to e-mail services denied, international television channels jammed, films and theater productions closed down, books unpublished, traditional Persian literature rewritten and newspapers banned,” he said in a statement.
Diplomatic relations between Iran and Britain reached a new low when hundreds of Iranian protesters stormed the British embassy and another British diplomatic compound in Tehran in November. Britain claimed the attack could not have happened without consent from Iranian authorities, and in response closed the embassy.
Hague also ordered the closure of the Iranian Embassy in London and expelled all its diplomats. Iran warned that Britain’s closure of its embassy in London would have consequences, but it is unknown if the blocking of the UK websites are the direct result of the diplomatic crisis.
After the blocking of the ‘UK in Iran’ website in December, Britain’s media regulator Ofcom in January decided to revoke the license of Iranian news channel Press TV. Ofcom, the government-approved regulatory authority for the TV and radio sectors, accused the English-language channel of breaking licensing rules because its editorial base is located in Tehran, not in London as had been indicated when it was granted the license.
Press TV called the move a “clear example of censorship” and pointed out that Ofcom, which calls itself independent, receives aid from the British government and the Secretary of State has the power to appoint or remove Ofcom’s chairman and its members. Nonetheless, a spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office said the British government was not involved in the decision to revoke the license.