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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Iran bans contact with 60 groups including BBC

TEHRAN (Agencies) Iran has banned its citizens from having contact with 60 organizations including the BBC, Human Rights Watch and opposition website Rahesabz as well as U.S.-funded broadcasters, and renewed execution threats against protesters state media have reported.

The deputy intelligence minister in charge of external affairs said that the 60 blacklisted groups were suspected of being involved in efforts by Western governments to topple the Islamic regime as part of a "soft war" and that it was an offence to communicate with them.

"Any kind of contact by individuals or legal entities with those groups involved in the soft war is illegal and prohibited," state media quoted the deputy minister as saying on Monday without giving his name.

The blacklisted organizations also included U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Farda as well as U.S.-based pro-monarchist satellite channels, Israeli public radio and the outlawed rebel People's Mujahedeen.

The deputy minister also called on the public to avoid "irregular contacts with embassies or foreign nationals or centers linked to them".

"Citizens should be alert to the traps of the enemies and cooperate with the intelligence ministry in protecting the nation and neutralizing the plots of foreigners and the conspirators," he said in allusion to opposition sympathizers who have held repeated protests over the past seven months.

Other blacklisted groups included the Brookings Institution, U.S. philanthropist George Soros's Open Society Institute and the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy.

On Monday, Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said that Iran had arrested several foreign nationals at anti-government protests during Shiite Muslim Ashura rituals last month that left at least eight people dead.

"They had entered Iran only two days before Ashura. Their cameras and equipment have been seized," he added, without specifying how many had been arrested or their nationalities.

In late November, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran was in the throes of a "soft war" with its enemies abroad, who were fomenting the street protests that have hit the country since hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed June re-election.

Iranian-American Kian Tajbakhsh, who used to be an independent consultant for Soros's Open Society Institute, was rearrested in the aftermath of the election and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

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