Iran's Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture said it has not recognised a neo-Nazi group that recently claimed its website had been registered "according to the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran".
"The website was only registered [in the ministry's list of approved websites] by an individual," Mehdi Sarami, an official of the ministry, told the Tabnak news portal on Saturday. There was no mention of the neo-Nazi group in the registration form, he said.
The ministry was criticised last week by Tabnak, which is affiliated with the conservative politician Mohsen Rezaie, for unblocking the group's website (irannazi.ir), which discussed Nazi ideology, principles and beliefs and the "Fuhrer's character, thoughts and speeches" in its various forums.
The ministry's censorship body blocked the neo-Nazi website soon after it was created on August 23, unblocked it a month later and has again blocked access since Monday.
The website had published statements by an obscure neo-Nazi group that calls itself Iran Nazi Society. It is the only "significant and reliable Nazi website in Iran", Behrouz, the administrator of the website, claimed in a note on the inauguration of the website.
"Why has the Culture Ministry given permission to the so-called Iran's Nazi Society…. We hope the authorities have an appropriate explanation for that," Tabnak said in an article last week titled "Expansion of Activities of Nazis and Racists on .ir [internet] Domains" and asked whether the activities of "this extremist cult" had been approved by the authorities.
Iran blocks access to millions of websites, including those affiliated with opposition and dissident groups, ones with explicit sex-related material as well as social networking sites such as Facebook.
The authorities have not offered any explanation for blocking the neo-Nazi group's website, but the group believed the country's Jewish community was responsible. After being blocked on the internet in Iran the first time, the group claimed in a statement that it had been blocked "just for insulting religious minorities, ie, the Jews".
"Only 17 days after [the creation of the website] we were targeted by these creatures and got into trouble as a result of personal complaints of Jews," the statement said.
Adherence to Nazism has a long history in Iran. The Iran National-Socialist Workers (Sumka) group was established in 1952 by Davoud Monshizadeh, an Iranian professor at Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, who had served with the SS.
The militaristic, pro-monarch and anti-communist Sumka was strongly opposed to the popular premier Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was ousted by a British-American coup in 1953. The group never went beyond establishing a minor support base among university students. A group calling itself Sumka still exists alongside some other small and obscure neo-Nazi groups but little is known about its membership or activities.
"Neo-Nazis share some traits and beliefs, mainly their denial of the Holocaust and hatred of Israel, with hardliners such as the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but there is a big difference between them. Neo-Nazis, who may or may not be religious, hate the Jews as a race but Islamic hardliners direct their anger at Israel and those who support Zionism, but not Judaism as a religion because the Quran recognises them as a legitimate religion too," said a political analyst in Tehran, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Iran is home to about 25,000 Jews, the second largest Jewish community in the Middle East after Israel. Its history in Iran goes back 2,500 years. Judaism has been recognised as a "legitimate religious minority" along with Christianity and Zoroastrianism in Iran's Constitution. Insulting religious minorities is banned by the country's press law, which applies to internet content.
The small but lively Iranian Jewish community, which has its own representative in the Iranian parliament, strongly protested when Mr Ahmadinejad publicly denied the Holocaust. The atrocities against the Jews during the Second World War were "historical reality", they said in letters printed in the monthly magazine published by the Jewish Association of Tehran.
Iran's religious establishment and Mr Ahmadinejad distinguish between adherence to Judaism as a religion and Zionism, which they say is only the ideology of the state of Israel. The Iranian Jewish community strongly refutes any affiliation to Zionism.