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December 11, 2003Iran's ICT minister confronted. How does Ahmad Motamedi, Iran's minister for Information and Communication Technology (ICT), explain the huge number of websites censored in his country? "Sometimes mistakes happen," he said.
Some mistake. In a rare interview, Mr Motamedi claimed that officially just 240 sites were banned in Iran and that no-one was punished for writing anti-government messages online.
He had a harder time explaining the arrest of Sina Motallebi, the journalist and blogger held earlier this year.
For other reports of President Khatami's press conference click here, here and here.
We questioned Dr Motamedi over his claim that only 240 websites were blocked - he insisted this was the correct number, and that all political sites were available - saying only that "if they are political and mixing in some contempts against our religions and our prophets, we cut them".
We asked him to officially publish the list of the sites his government admits to banning - the minister said "it has been published for the private sector, and insisted, "all the press know what it is".
We asked him what punishments would be handed out to people who published material the government didn't approve of - Dr Motamedi insisited that his government only blocks the sites within Iran, and that "there is no punishment".
So, obviously, we had to ask about Sina Motallebi - the journalist and blogger arrested in Iran earlier this year.
Mr Motamedi first insisted he knew nothing of the story, and then said, "He has been arrested but not in relation to weblogs." The minister offered an example - "If somebody is a weblog writer, and kills somebody - should they not be arrested?".
We had one final question. Earlier this year, the government said it was a 'technical mistake' when some websites became unavailable - we asked the minister how such a mistake could happen. He pointed out that "technical problems always happen", but that he didn't know why they happened so often. He concluded - "sometimes mistakes happen" - and was ushered away.
Ahmed Reda: Many reports are saying 15,000 sites are blocked.
A: Most of the sites are cut. They have themselves cut it - Most of the sites that are porno and unethical are cut. We have not given any names for that - we have given them the message you cut them yourself. So anti-ethics and pornos, they have themselves cut it.
From these 240 these are sites against religion. They are contempting Prophet Mohammed and other religious principles of the people. What do you call them, political, we do not know what names you have for this, but for us it is anti-religion.
Some of them they have not criticized them in charge and authorities.
Ahmed: But I'm not speaking about the nature of the sites, I'm speaking about the number.
They have themselves cut this. Only we have given the names of these 240. But for the sites by their names it indicates that they are anti-ethical and anti-religious. They have themselves cut it.
Ahmed: How many political sites are you banning?
A: What is your definition of political?
Ahmed: Criticizing the political system and the political organisations, the executive branch?
A: From our point of view all political sites are free. No news agency has reported, for example BBC, CNN - most of them are political and they have criticised the government, but we have not closed them - they are not prohibited. But if they are political and mixing in some contempts against our religions and our prophets, we cut them.
Cara Swift: Will you officially publish the list of the 240 sites that are banned?
A: Actually it has been published for the private sector. Most of them are private, and all the press know what it is.
Aaron Scullion: What punishments can people expect if they publish websites you do not agree with?
A: Only we cut the sites - from only access from Iran. There is no punishment defined for them.
Aaron: There were reports a few months ago that one weblogger was arrested.
A: No one has been arrested. If you have any name we can follow it. We give some loans to them and promote these weblogs and sites when they are good - especially when they are in Persian.
David Steven: I have the name of the weblogger that it was claimed was arrested. Sina Motallebi.
A: Actually, it is just now that I am hearing this from you. This is not substantial and it is not in relation to weblogs. What news agency?
David: The Colombia Journalism Review. Associated Press.
A: She has been arrested but not in relation to weblogs. If somebody is a weblog writer, and kills somebody - should they not be arrested?
Aaron: Previously, some web sites in Iran were taken off line and blocked - when the government was told of this, it said it was a mistake. How could such a mistake happen?
A: Technical problems always happen. But I don't know how this is being increased. Sometimes mistakes happen.