December 16, 2007 / 2:50 PM / 12 years ago

Iran shuts down 24 cafes in Internet crackdown

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian police have closed down 24 Internet cafes and other coffee shops in as many hours, detaining 23 people, as part of a broad crackdown on immoral behaviour in the Islamic state, official media said on Sunday.

The action in Tehran province was the latest move in a campaign against fashion and other practices deemed incompatible with Islamic values, including women flouting strict dress codes and barber shops offering men Western hair styles.

“Using immoral computer games, storing obscene photos ... and the presence of women wearing improper hijab were among the reasons why they have been closed down,” Colonel Nader Sarkari, a provincial police commander, said.

Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidency in 2005, promising a return to the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution, hardliners have pressed for tighter controls on “immoral behaviour”.

Sarkari told the official IRNA news agency that police had inspected 435 coffee shops in the past 24 hours, and 170 had been warned.

The report did not make clear whether they were all Internet cafes, which have mushroomed in Iran over the past few years and are popular especially among young people. Police were not immediately available for comment.

“Twenty-three people were detained,” Sarkari said, adding 11 of them were women.

Many young Iranians are avid users of the Internet, some using chat rooms to socialise with the opposite sex. Mingling between sexes outside marriage is banned and many Web sites considered unIslamic are blocked by the authorities.

The cafe crackdown coincides with a winter campaign against women wearing tight trousers tucked into long boots and other “improper dress” such as short overcoats and hats instead of scarves.

Enforcement of Islamic dress codes that require women to cover their hair and disguise the shape of their bodies has become stricter since 2005, following eight years of reformist rule.

Police regularly clamp down on skimpier clothing and looser headscarves in the summer, but usually for only a few weeks. This year the campaign has run into the winter.

Women found dressing inappropriately may be warned and repeat offenders can be taken to a police station and fined.

“Our people want their women to be able to go in the streets with respect and want their dignity to be protected,” senior Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami told worshippers in Tehran on Friday. “Our people want the society to be morally clean.”

In a separate campaign, IRNA said police had inspected 275 restaurants in the capital to check compliance with a new ban on smoking in public places. The ban includes water pipes, known in Iran as qalyan, offered in some outlets.

Of those, 138 received a warning and 17 were shut down, police official Mohammad Reza Alipour said.

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