BEIRUT — The cyber-crimes unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard announced Saturday that it had uncovered a Dutch-funded plot to use the Internet to undermine the Islamic Republic, Iranian news media reported.
The announcement cited a "Dutch project" to foment discontent to facilitate a "soft overthrow" of the government.
"One of the Western countries that has provided the opposition with financial aid in recent years is the Netherlands," said the Revolutionary Guard statement, which was carried by several government-associated news outlets. "The Dutch project aimed to encourage sexual and moral perversion," it said.
The Dutch government in 2005 allocated about $20 million a year to support independent Persian-language media, including a radio station and Internet magazines.
The Iranian announcement raised the possibility of a new wave of political pressure on the nation's once-vibrant civil society and human rights groups, battered by successive waves of arrests and intimidation.
On Friday, a member of the cyber-crimes unit told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that "individuals, groups and countries should not falsely imagine that the Internet is a safe haven and has been left uncontrolled."
The Revolutionary Guard's announcement implicated a number of popular Iranian news websites -- including the bilingual RoozOnline -- in the alleged conspiracy.
According to the state-owned Tehran Times, the Revolutionary Guard accused the news outlets of "exaggerating the enemies' threats against the country, and depicting Iran's current administration as incompetent."
International monitors have described a deterioration of civil liberties and human rights in Iran. But Iranian officials say that Western governments are trying to use journalists and activists to spark unrest in the style of popular uprisings that felled Communist regimes in former Soviet Bloc countries.
Iranian authorities recently charged Iranian American freelance journalist Roxana Saberi with espionage, accusing her of passing information to U.S. intelligence. In December, AIDS doctors Kamiar and Arash Alaei were convicted of being linked to the CIA and taking money from the U.S. as part of a conspiracy to overthrow the Iranian government.
Last month, blogger Omid-Reza Mirsayafi, who had been arrested and charged with insulting the country's leaders on his website, died in an apparent suicide while serving a 30-month sentence in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.--