Several weeks ago what Iranian officials described as a technical “glitch” briefly gave Iranian citizens access to banned Internet sites, including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The access was hailed by Western journalists as potentially “the start of a more tolerant attitude towards social media by the government” and “Iran’s Berlin Wall of internet censorship crumbling down.” The ban was reimposed within a day.
In fact Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi made clear this week that opening up social media sites is a non-starter:
“The ban on networks such as Facebook and Twitter was not supposed to be lifted,” said Vaezi. Tehran blocks access to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and numerous other sites, including blogs and pornography hubs, as it tries to stop Iranians from surfing content authorities seen as undermining the Islamic regime, or as being immoral.
When asked why some top Iranian officials use Facebook and Twitter despite the regime banning access to the platforms, Vaezi tersely responded “you should ask them.”
As it happens someone has asked one of Iran’s top officials exactly that. David Keyes, executive director of Advancing Human Rights, last month pressed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on the topic. The Western-education Zarif, who maintains a verified Twitter account as well as a Facebook page, has been broadly described as one of the more nuanced and moderate members of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet. Zarif’s response to Keyes was somewhat less than nuanced:
I asked Javad Zarif if he thought it was ironic that he enjoys posting on Facebook while his government bans the website in Iran. “Ha! Ha!” he laughed heartily. “That’s life.”… If you think Iran is duplicitous about its nuclear weapons program, just wait till you hear its deception on human rights. When I asked Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, why the Iranian regime bans Facebook and Twitter, he looked at an aide and asked incredulously, “Are the Facebook and Twitter banned in Iran?” I assured him they were. “Personally, I don’t do it, so I’m not involved,” he said.
[Photo: Mohammed Javad Zarif / Facebook]