As Iran marked the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution on Thursday, amid reports of clashes between opposition supporters and police, the authorities attempted to disrupt the flow of information by preventing journalists from covering opposition activity, drastically slowing Internet service in Iran, and shutting down text messaging services, according to news reports. An official said that Gmail, the Google e-mail service, would be blocked, Reuters reported.

In an email to IPI, Google spokesperson Kay Oberbeck said: “We have heard from users in Iran that they are having trouble accessing Gmail.  We can confirm a sharp drop in traffic and we have inspected our own networks and found out that they are working properly.

“Whenever we encounter blocks in our services we try to resolve them as quickly as possible because we strongly believe that people everywhere should have the ability to communicate online freely. Sadly, sometimes it is not within our control.”

Iran’s renewed moves against the media coincided with the launch of IPI’s World Press Freedom Review 2009 – Focus on the Middle East and North Africa. 

The report noted: “The government of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has long implemented some of the world’s most repressive policies towards the media. This year, however, Iran became the leading jailer of journalists in the world, imprisoning over 100 reporters and bloggers in the aftermath of the disputed elections.”

Back in June 2009, when Iran began a crackdown on the media following disputed presidential elections, IPI Director David Dadge said in a statement: “In a world where news is instant, it is deeply depressing to see a government still seeking to prevent the free flow of information without realising it is already seeping out through every pore and fissure in Iranian society.”

Eight people, including one journalist, were arrested on Wednesday, according to Iranian Intelligence Minister Hojjatoleslam Heidar Moslehi, because of their links to US-backed Radio Farda, which is affiliated with Radio Free Europe, UPI reported.

Reacting to Iran’s latest efforts to disrupt the flow of information, IPI Director Dadge said: “Throughout 2009, the International Press Institute urged Iran to end its harassment of journalists and condemned its blatant disregard for freedom of the press and expression. IPI is gravely concerned that the media environment in Iran is going to deteriorate in 2010. No amount of censorship of the world’s media can prevent information from escaping and the Iranian government would do well to reflect this reality rather than acting as if information can still be controlled and blocked.”