Pokemon Go on despite ban

Iran bans game, but Iranians use VPNs to bypass Internet censorship

Iran was quick to ban the global gaming craze Pokemon Go, but as is the case when it comes to the Islamic republic's Internet controls, its tech-savvy young people have found ways to carry on regardless.

Iran blocks many global news and social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, AFP reported.

It banned Pokemon Go a few days after the game was released early last month, citing national security concerns as the game leads users to real-life locations via GPS maps on their mobile phones.

"Because this game is a mixture of virtual and physical games, it can pose lots of problems for the country and people in terms of security," deputy attorney-general Abdulsamad Khoram Abadi told the Tasnim news agency on Friday.

He confirmed that Pokemon Go had been unanimously banned by the High Council for Cyberspace.

"These games can become a means for directing guided missiles and even cause disruptions to ambulances and fire trucks," hardliner-linked analyst Alireza al-Davoud told Tasnim, adding he feared the US developers of the game were using it to spy on Iran.

But the ban has done little to stop determined players from hunting down Pokemon.

Iran's youthful and highly connected population is used to bypassing Internet censorship on a daily basis, using virtual private networks (VPNs) that mask the location of their phones and computers.

Most phone shops sell pay-as-you-go VPN cards featuring the logos of banned sites such as Facebook and YouTube.

The authorities rarely crack down on this, preferring to discourage access to foreign sites, rather than rigidly enforce censorship.

The bigger problem for Pokemon Go fans in Iran is the lack of "Pokestops" and "Gyms".

Mellat Park is a relative hotspot, with one Pokestop and two Gyms. One evening, it had about 30 players, mostly in their teens and 20s.

"It just shows how little data there is about Iran on the Internet," said Shayan, 15, complaining about the lack of features in Tehran.

Some people have travelled from the town of Karaj, 30km west of Tehran, to play here, added Shayan.

Meanwhile, Islamic leaders in Malaysia said Muslims should avoid playing the game as it was harmful and could "lead to gambling".

The game went live yesterday.

Senior religious official Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri said the city's Islamic Legal Consultative Committee had taken into consideration top scholars' opinions on the cartoon creatures.

"Pokemon Go and all the Pokemon characters should be avoided as it can bring harm," he was quoted as saying by the national news agency Bernama.

"The game promoted a search for power and deities with certain powers, which could lead to gambling."