Iran’s Communications Minister has revealed that there have been negotiations with Twitter over the lifting of the ban that has been imposed by the country for years, agencies have reported. This, explained Mohammad Javad Azeri Jahrami, is despite the fact that even the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic uses the social networking site.
The Iranian authorities blocked Twitter back in 2009 following the outbreak of widespread popular protests against the regime over allegations of electoral fraud in the elections won by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which he secured for himself another presidential term.
Jahrami told Iran Daily that Twitter “is completely ready” to negotiate in order to solve the “problems” with Tehran. “Given the current situation,” he added, “there is still room for negotiation and communication. Twitter is not a morally inappropriate environment that should be blocked.”
At 36, Jahrami is Iran’s youngest Minister and the first to be born after the Islamic Revolution back in 1979. He was appointed as Minister of Communications this week.
Human rights groups have criticised his appointment because of the role played by Jahrami in the censorship imposed by the authorities during and following the 2009 protests. However, he rejected such criticism that he received during his meeting with the members of the Shura council earlier this week. “I was not responsible for the censorship,” he insisted. “I was responsible for the technical infrastructure that makes censorship possible, which I consider to be an honour.”
The new Minister is said to be one of those political figures who oppose internet censorship in Iran, where many websites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are officially banned despite their daily and extensive use by millions of Iranians using VPN protection programmes that are easy to obtain. According to Jahrami, officials are also looking for ways to lift the ban on YouTube while at the same time keeping the ban on the “immoral content” of the videos that are recorded and shared on the site. He added that there is a pilot project to allow universities to have access to YouTube. The Minister pointed out that Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace, which includes “extremist” members, has the final say concerning the lifting of the ban on the blocked websites. Neither Twitter nor YouTube have yet responded to this development.
The 2009 protests marked the first time that protesters used Twitter and other social media websites widely in order to organise protests. It was a model that was embraced by protesters during the Arab Spring movement from 2010.
“In 2009,” said Jahrami, “the Iranian government believed that the CEO of Twitter meddled in the country’s internal affairs, according to his statements at that time, and for that reason Twitter was banned.”
The Minister himself has around 4,000 followers on Twitter and, despite the censorship, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has a number of accounts in different languages, as does President Hassan Rouhani and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed Jawad Zarif.