The United States has condemned Iran's blockage of an interactive online "Virtual U.S. Embassy Tehran," less than 24 hours after it was officially launched in Washington.
In a statement Wednesday, the White House said that "through this action, the Iranian government has once again demonstrated its commitment to build an electronic curtain of surveillance and censorship around its people." The statement said "Tehran's systematic efforts to deny information to its citizens and to control what the Iranian people see and hear is doomed to fail in a 21st century when technology is empowering citizens around the globe."
The State Department launched the virtual diplomatic mission Tuesday, saying it is aimed at bridging the gap between Iranians and Americans that has existed since diplomatic relations were severed more than 30 years ago.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the unprecedented Internet project "a vehicle for the two peoples to communicate without fear." In her welcome video, Clinton also noted that thanks to the new technologies like the Web site, Iranians can find information about opportunities to study in America or obtain visas to come and visit.
Under-Secretary of State for political affairs Wendy Sherman said the online project is an effort to skirt the "electronic curtain" erected by Tehran to block Internet links between Iranians and the outside world.
The Iranian move came as representatives of five international broadcasters met in London to discuss the deliberate jamming of their broadcast signals in countries such as Iran that seek to prevent free access to information.
Voice of America joined the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Audiovisuel Exterieur de la France and Radio Netherlands Worldwide in signing a statement Wednesday, condemning the practices and calling for action to stop it.
In the statement, the five broadcasters say they have seen an escalation this year in the number of pressure tactics that have been used on the media accessed by audiences in Iran and other countries. They asked regulatory authorities to take action against those who deliberately cause interference to satellite signals on the grounds that this is contrary to international conventions.
Secretary Clinton announced the plans for the "Virtual U.S. Embassy Tehran" in an interview with VOA's Persian News Network in late October. Iran responded by saying the project will not succeed.
But U.S. officials expressed confidence that the new project will be popular, saying a State Department Persian Facebook page created earlier this year has already had about one million "hits."
Iranians are invited to contribute comments and criticism through links to State Department Twitter and Facebook accounts provided on the new website.
The U.S. virtual embassy web site is available in English at "Tehran.usembassy.gov" or "iran.usembassy.gov" and in Persian at "Persian.iran.usembassy.gov".
Some information for this report was provided by AP.