Iran launches Islamic YouTube rival 'Mehr'

The Iranian government has launched a video sharing site in full adherence with its strict interpretation of Islam as an alternative to YouTube.

Mehr, which means affection or kindness in Farsi, is run by state broadcaster IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting).

YouTube has been banned in Iran since 2009, but many Iranians still access the Google-owned website by bypassing internet filters.

Iran already has a popular video website, Aparat, run by the company behind Farsi-language social network Cloob, but Mehr is the first state-backed incursion into YouTube territory in the country.

"From now on, people can upload their short films on the website and access (IRIB) produced material," said IRIB deputy chief Lotfollah Siahkali yesterday.

Poor download speeds have affected the new service, and as of this afternoon Mehr was not functioning despite users' repeated attempts to access it.

Iranians are used to censors blocking Facebook, Gmail and foreign news sites, and their internet communications are routinely monitored with surveillance software purchased from the West.

A Facebook page dedicated to Mehr apparently provides links to some of its content, including music clips produced in Iran.

Many Iranians believe the block on sites such as Facebook and YouTube is due to their use in anti-government protests after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad in 2009.

In April it was announced there would be an Iranian version of Facebook and a new email service, to be called Iran Mail. Users would have to register their home address and social security number with police, it was reported.

And in September Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on the West to show respect for Muslims by blocking "The Innocence of Muslims," a film distributed on YouTube that depicts the prophet Mohammed as a sexual predator. The film remains on YouTube for viewing, despite protests worldwide.

YouTube owners Google declined to comment on the launch of Mehr today.