Media barred from covering election protests

LONDON — Iranian authorities have stepped up their campaign against foreign news outlets as protests over the country’s disputed presidential elections grow ever bloodier.

On Tuesday the Iranian Culture Ministry banned all foreign journalists from covering opposition rallies in Tehran.

The latest development comes a day after up to eight opposition supporters were reported to have been killed by forces loyal to hardline Iranian prexy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The ministry’s decision means that all foreign journos in Iran have been unable to leave their offices or film in Tehran for much of the day. The unprecedented curb on press freedoms comes as Iranian authorities become increasingly worried by the scale of the protest over the official results of Friday’s elections.

Leading opposition candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi has urged his supporters not to take to the streets in an effort to avoid further confrontation with pro-government forces. That hasn’t stopped eyewitness accounts, largely via Twitter and other social networking sites, from reporting that thousands of anti-government supporters demonstrated again Tuesday. The importance of Twitter to the opposition was highlighted by reports that officials from the U.S. State Dept. had urged execs at the social networking site to delay a planned upgrade for fear it would cut Iranians off from using the service.

The attempts to impose a media blackout, combined with widespread mobile phone and Internet outages in Tehran, have made it difficult for foreign journalists to cover the situation.

“The ban applies to text, print and TV output,” one Tehran-based reporter with an international news agency told Daily Variety. “There could be a great deal going on out there but we just don’t know.”

Ironically, the government’s attempts to stop the flow of information out of the country may be having the reverse effect as foreign journos have had to rely on eyewitness accounts — often from opposition demonstrators — to report what is going on.

Anti-government demonstrators have also tried to bypass the media blackout by staging a silent protest directly outside the offices of the state-owned media network IRIB. Attempts by the channel to portray the demonstrators as pro-government were ridiculed by the Twitter brigade.

A pro-government march Tuesday was covered by Iranian state media in an effort to show internal support for Ahmadinejad, whose surprisingly strong showing in the election, with 62% of the vote, has been pilloried by opposition supporters as being the result of fraud and vote-rigging.

As night fell in Iran, reports were spreading of the army moving in to opposition areas as cries of “Allah-u-akbar,” or “God is great,” could be heard from the rooftops. The same cries were previously used during the run-up to the 1979 Iranian revolution as a rallying call to opponents of the shah of Iran’s regime.

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