Social media in the Islamic Republic of Iran won a minor victory on Wednesday as President Hassan Rouhani reportedly halted a censorship committee’s plan to ban the mobile messaging application WhatsApp.
According to Haaretz, Iran’s Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content (CDCWC) had decided to block the popular application solely because Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whom the committee secretary labeled “an American Zionist,” owned it.
Rouhani vetoed the ban, however, according to a report in the reformist Iranian newspaper Sharq cited by AFP.
“The issue of banning WhatsApp was raised. The president has ordered a halt on (banning) the site,” Sharq quoted Telecommunication Minister Mahmoud Vaezi as saying. “Until the time that we have a replacement for these sites, the government opposes filtering them.”
Rouhani’s intervention lends some weight to his pledge to ease restrictions on the freedom of information.
Iranian authorities maintain tight control of social networks, blocking Facebook and Twitter, alongside blogs and other content which might be construed as offending either Islam or the Iranian regime.
Even so, Rouhani was elected on a moderate platform and pledged to ease restrictions on internet content, social media, and the press. He even wooed members of the international community and media with willingness to engage with them directly via Twitter, and continues to maintain his account despite his country’s ban.
Nevertheless, Rouhani’s efforts haven’t really amounted to much so far.
“We’ve seen the president more than once talking with international media and also from his own Twitter account,” Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told VICE News. “There have been a lot of promises on the restrictions on social media and Internet freedom, but they have not yet materialized.”
Mansour added that Rouhani’s appointment might still prove to be beneficial for freedom of information in Iran, despite the headwinds the president faces from more conservative bodies, such as the CDCWC.
“We’re hoping to see those reforms happen, although we know of course that it will be a fight within the system,” he said. “People got excited when Rouhani came to power, and it’s his responsibility to keep his own promises.”
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