Heard the One About Iran's President?
Robert Tait in Tehran, The Guardian:
The misdirected email or text message is a hazard of our age. It can sour relationships and upset the closest of our friends. But now a stray electronic missive has been blamed for a spate of arrests, a national scandal and a very grumpy president of Iran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Islamic nation's firebrand leader, has taken umbrage at an unwelcome text received on his mobile phone. According to whispered accounts in the Iranian capital, his ire was stirred when someone sent him a joke suggesting he didn't wash regularly enough.
Although officials claim he possesses a lively sense of humour that belies his rather hairshirt image, on this occasion it suffered a serious failure. Realising the joke was doing the rounds of Iranian mobile phones, the notoriously temperamental president lodged an official complaint with Iran's judiciary department.
That in turn has acted as a pretext for an official purge of the SMS system in the country. Mr Ahmadinejad has since told his staff to pay close attention to all jokes circulating about him by text.
An anti-regime website called Rooz Online claims that under the crackdown the head of the country's mobile phone company has been sacked and four people arrested and accused of colluding with the Israeli foreign intelligence service, Mossad.
But poking fun at the president has becoming a national pastime in Iran. In a fusillade of seditious traffic, the regime's senior figures and its most sacred policies are all fair game - with Mr Ahmadinejad a particular target.
One joke tells of a man who has died and gone to hell, where he sees the famously strait-laced Mr Ahmadinejad dancing with the Hollywood star Jennifer Lopez. "Is this Ahmadinejad's punishment?" he asks.
"No," goes the reply. "It is Jennifer Lopez's punishment." READ MORE
Another recent joke poked fun at Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, listing characteristics he supposedly inherited from five prophets: Muhammad, Moses, Jesus, Noah and Solomon. Insulting the supreme leader - or the prophets - is a jailing offence in devoutly religious Iran.
Others concentrate heavily on sex, another taboo with Iran's religious hierarchy. One purports to reveal official statistics of what men do after sex: "2% eat; 3% smoke; 4% take a shower; 5% go to sleep: 86% get up and go home to their wives."
The previous assumption was that this exchange of bawdy jibes and political satire could be made without detection. But now senior police officers have announced that they are acutely aware of it and say jokes intercepted could be treated as criminal behaviour.
Particular attention is being paid to jokes comparing Iran's nuclear programme with sex. Several people are widely believed to have received court summonses for sending nuclear-related jokes.
"While the outcome of the recent arrests in connection with SMS messaging is not clear yet, what is certain is that SMS jokes have already put some people into serious trouble," wrote the website Rooz Online.
The clampdown is in line with the authorities' uncompromising stance on the internet and bloggers. Wary of modern communications as a means of spreading political dissent, Iran is second only to China in the number of websites it filters - using technology made in America.
Large numbers of the nation's estimated 70,000 to 100,000 bloggers have faced harassment or imprisonment. The regime has acknowledged monitoring text message traffic. It first admitted it had access to text traffic last December when a military plane carrying more than 100 journalists crashed shortly after take-off at Tehran airport.
The communications minister said text messages were kept by the government for six months and that messages sent by those on board in the moments before the crash could be used to investigate its causes.
The first arrests over text messaging were made in the run-up to last year's presidential election when several anti-regime student leaders were detained for urging a boycott of the poll after the regime had declared voting to be an Islamic duty. "I was arrested for one evening and they made it clear they knew every SMS I had sent and received," said Muhammad Hashemi, leader of the Tahkim Vahdat student movement.