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Iranian Minister Again Pushing To Unblock Twitter

Iran's Minister of Communication in Rouhani's cabinet, Mohammadjavad Azari Jahromi, undated.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani wants to unblock the social media website Twitter.

Without providing details, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Minister for Telecommunications, said February 25 that the government had sent the High Council for Cyberspace a proposal for allowing public access to Twitter.

The council, which consists of the president, the speaker of the parliament, the head of the judiciary, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and several others who are all appointed by the Supreme Leader, is in charge of deciding about major policies regarding the Internet, including whether or not to block websites.

Jahromi had spoken out against the blocking of social media websites even before joining Rouhani’s government, saying that access should be allowed to all social media sites unless they violate the “cultural principles” of the Islamic Republic, which he said was not the case with Twitter.

Though Twitter and other social media cites are blocked in the country, Iranians are adept at using anti-filtering software to circumvent the blockages and access sites like Twitter, which is very popular among Iranians. Some Iranian politicians and officials even like to Tweet.

Prior to being blocked in 2009 following the failed Green Revolution, Twitter was among the five most popular websites in the country. In the summer of 2009, the platform was used widely by the Green Movement and those protesting the controversial re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In their Tweets, Iranian users questioned the election results, criticized the regime’s brutality in suppressing the protestors, published photos and videos of demonstrations and clashes with the police and security forces, and mobilized people for more rallies. The government reacted to that development by blocking Twitter and other social media sites.

However, an official poll published in December 2015 showed that 2.8 percent of Iranians (more than 2 million) were still using Twitter despite the blockage.

The platform is especially popular among Iranian journalists and social and political activists. Twitter becomes the go-to for news and information for the Iranian public whenever anti-regime protests break out and are ignored or misrepresented by state media, which is the main reason the High Council for Cyberspace has still not lifted the block despite repeated requests from Rouhani’s government over the past few years.

Conservatives and security officials describe the site as a weapon for terrorists. In July 2017, Kamal Hadianfar, the head of Iran’s cyber police, the “FATTA,” described Twitter and Telegram as “major telecommunication tools in the hand of terrorist groups,” and supported their continued blocking.

“I told the Twitter manager in a conference in Spain that currently 750,000 people support ISIS around the world and are ISIS terrorist agents, and all their activities take place in Twitter,” Hadianfar told the ISNA News Agency.

The judiciary reiterated in August 2017 that accessing blocked social media websites like Twitter is a crime and violators will be punished. Of course, it goes without saying that the punishment does not apply to regime officials, only to ordinary citizens, journalists, and activists.