TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has blocked the website of influential former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ahead of parliamentary elections, for carrying pro-reform critical statements, Iran's semi-official ILNA news agency reported on Friday.
The clerical establishment has increased pressure on the pro-reform opposition ahead of the March 2 vote, the first nationwide poll since a 2009 disputed presidential vote that triggered prolonged and widespread anti-government protests.
In the past days, some leading reformist figures have been sentenced to long-term jail sentences.
Rafsanjani, who heads a powerful body that resolves disputes between parliament and a hardline clerical body, sided with the opposition after the 2009 vote, which critics say was rigged to secure hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election.
Rafsanjani's daughter Faezeh was detained briefly during the eight months of protests that followed the vote.
She went on trial last week on charges of "campaigning against the Islamic establishment."
"The site management was asked few days ago to purge the site and as an example omit the last Friday prayer sermons conducted by Ayatollah Rafsanjani," his younger brother Mohammad Hashemi Rafsanjani was quoted by ILNA as saying.
"The company which provides service to Ayatollah Rafsanjani's website announced last night that they have been ordered to cut services to the site and few minutes later it was out of service."
During the sermon, Rafsanjani angered hardline rulers by saying that the country was in crisis, demanding an end to arrests of the opposition members.
Clashes erupted between police and supporters of the opposition after Rafsanjani's sermon.
Iranian authorities say the 2009 vote was healthiest in the past three decades and have accused the United States and Israel of backing the opposition to overthrow the clerical establishment.
The registration of hopefuls for the parliamentary vote, a litmus test for the popularity of Iran's hardline rulers, ended on Friday with more than 4,500 candidates registered. They will be screened for their political and Islamic qualifications by the hard-line Guardian Council electoral watchdog.
Analysts say Ahmadinejad's allies want to secure a majority in the assembly, aiming to win the presidential vote in 2013.
Leading reformist politicians said pro-reform political parties have decided not to provide a separate list of candidates because the basic needs of a "free and fair" vote have not been fulfilled.
However, hard-line cleric Ahmad Khatami on Friday urged people to actively participate in the vote.
Authorities are concerned that a low turnout will further harm the establishment's legitimacy. Frustration is simmering among lower- and middle-class Iranians over Ahmadinejad's economic policies. Prices of most consumer goods have risen substantially and many people struggle to make ends meet.
The 2009 vote and its aftermath plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution and has created a deepening rift among the country's hardline rulers.
Thousands of people, including senior reformers, were detained after the vote for fomenting unrest. Most of them have since been released, but more than 80 people have been jailed for up to 15 years and five have been sentenced to death.
Mousavi, a former prime minister, and Karoubi, a cleric and a former parliament speaker who also stood against Ahmadinejad, have been under house arrest since February and denied any contact with the outside world.
(Writing by Ramin Mostafavi; Editing by Matthew Jones)