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Iran: reports that we’re shutting down the Internet were based on an April Fool’s joke

Iran’s government has denied reports that it plans to cut all Internet access, and replace the World Wide Web with its own “clean” national intranet by August, reports AFP. Despite this, the Islamic republic does plan to establish a “national information network” within the next year, but the country’s government has not yet clarified whether that closed network would operate along side the global Internet.

On Monday, the International Business Times reported that Reza Taghipour, Iran’s minister for Information and Communications Technology, had announced that by August the country would require local Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to the global Internet, and connect only to the “National Internet,” which would prevent Iranians from using sites like Google or Hotmail, among many others. But a ministry statement posted to the government’s website said the report was “completely baseless,” and was “in no way confirmed by the ministry.”

According to the ministry statement, the report was derived from an interview with Taghipour that was published on April 1, and was in fact an April Fool’s Day hoax. The ministry blasted the report as the work of “the propaganda wing of the West,” and provided “its hostile media with a pretext emanating from a baseless claim.”

However, earlier statements from Taghipour indicate that the only part of the IBTimes report that currently appears to be “baseless” is that Iran’s “clean Internet” will be rolled out by August. Instead, the plan would go into full operation by March 2013.

Even now, the country’s ISPs are already required to abide by the Iranian government’s strict filter list. And Taghipour said last March that the Internet “promotes crime, disunity, unhealthy moral content, and atheism.” A Fast Company report from earlier this year said that Iran’s national intranet “is the most ambitious effort yet by any government to censor the Internet, with the exception of China’s ‘Great Firewall.'” And Reporters Without Borders describes Iran as one of the world’s most fearsome “enemies of the Internet” for its restrictions on what information may flow in and out of the country via the Web.