ByKen McDonnell, writer at
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Ken McDonnell

Iran has become the first country in the world to outright ban the augmented reality sensation that is Pokémon GO. The country's official body that oversees online activity, known as the Supreme Council of Virtual Spaces, made the decision on Friday after a period of deliberation.

Since its launch, players in Iran have been able to play the game and discuss their exploits on social media, despite internet restrictions in the country. However, this ban will put an end to that freedom of usage.

Iran Becomes First Country To Ban Pokémon GO

The Supreme Council of Virtual Spaces concluded that “security concerns” pushed them to make the decision to restrict access to Pokémon GO.

“Any game that wants to operate nationwide in Iran needs to obtain permission from the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance, and the Pokémon Go app has not yet requested such a permission.
There are many problems with the game and security-wise, it can create problems for the country and our people” the semi-official Isna news agency quoted Abolhasan Firouzabadi, the head of Iran’s supreme council of virtual space, as saying.

Though Iran is indeed the first in terms of banning the game, it's not the first country that has voiced concerns.

In Indonesia, officers were banned from playing the game while on duty, authorities in New York state are set to ban some 3,000 registered sex offenders from playing the game for as long as they're on parole, and a leading Saudi cleric stated that a fatwa (religious ruling) that they issued against an earlier Pokémon card game still stood, and applied to Pokémon GO.

But for anyone familiar with how Iran's political system has come in contact with the arts in the past, the banning of Pokémon GO will come as no surprise.

The Banning of the Arts

Battlefield 3's Tehran
Battlefield 3's Tehran

In September of 2012, Iran's National Foundation of Computer Games and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps refused the selling of Arma III. They concluded that the title portrayed the CSAT faction, which is an enemy of NATO in the game, in a way that mirrored the Iranian army — they carried similar equipment and spoke a similar language.

Battlefield 3 also came under fire from the country's FARS agency, after the deputy police chief issued a statement warning stores that they were prohibited from selling, "this illegal game". They took a disliking to the game's narrative, which saw US forces launch a military raid on Tehran as they targeted the leader of a fictitious terrorist group. Reports came in that shops were actually raided by the police if they were found to be selling the AAA shooter, with other stores predicting the action and withdrawing stock prior to the official ban.

A group of Iranian youths also launched a protest against the game in an internet petition, which attracted around 5000 signatures. "We understand that the story of a videogame is hypothetical... [but] we believe the game is purposely released at a time when the US is pushing the international community into fearing Iran," it says. - The Guardian

But video games aren’t the only art form that have come under governmental fire. Iran’s own cinema is continuously restricted and censored, with a great deal of the country’s most internationally famous directors rarely granted the opportunity to distribute their own films at home. Perhaps Iran’s most illustrious case of banning its own citizens’ content is that of Jafar Panahi. While he has nothing to do with Pokemon GO, his remarkable life is an indication of what it’s like to be an artist and create entertainment in modern Iran.

Panahi has been working in the industry for decades and emerged as one of Iran’s most fascinating and challenging filmmakers during the country’s cinematic revolution. Iran is famous for remarkably poetic films, many of which subtly critique their regime and the restrictions on freedom that perpetuate their society. Panahi was one of the most brazen.

After years of conflict with the government, his cinema eventually led to his arrest in 2010, along with his wife, daughter, and 15 friends. He was charged with producing propaganda against the Iranian government. In December 2010, Panahi was sentenced to a six-year jail sentence and a 20-year ban on directing any movies, writing screenplays, giving any form of interview with Iranian or foreign media, or from leaving the country except for medical treatment or making the Hajj pilgrimage.

Eventually, Panahi was permitted to serve his sentence under house arrest. And yet, in defiance of his country’s ruling, he continues to make films. One of which, named This Is Not A Film (2011), was actually smuggled to the Cannes Film Festival inside a cake! Jafar Panahi's defiance is emblematic of the remarkable Iranians out there who are dedicated to art, freedom of expression and highlighting injustices.

Still from Panahi's film, Offside.
Still from Panahi's film, Offside.

The banning of the arts in Iran, be they homegrown films or little games like Pokemon GO, are saddening to hear of. With GO, we’ve seen numerous examples of how this game has brought happiness and friendship to so many people all over the world, and it’s disappointing that the citizens of Iran can’t enjoy the same freedoms.

What do you think of the banning of Pokémon GO in Iran?

Sources: [The Guardian; BBC]


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