An Iranian judge has ordered Mark Zuckerberg to appear in court and answer complaints about Instagram and Whatsapp, which Facebook owns. The move, while unlikely to succeed, highlights the split in attitudes between Iran's moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, and hardliners elsewhere in the country's administration.
An Iranian official told the state-affiliated ISNA news agency, that a judge had also ordered the two applications be blocked after people claimed they violated their privacy, Reuters reported. "According to the court's ruling, the Zionist director of the company of Facebook, or his official attorney, must appear in court to defend himself and pay for possible losses," the official reportedly said, referencing Zuckerberg's Jewish ancestry.
It is highly improbable that Zuckerberg, the 30-year-old billionaire founder of Facebook, will obey the summons. And fortunately for him, unless he takes an Iranian holiday or gets a flight very wrong, there is little that the Iranian judiciary can do, because it does not have an extradition agreement with the US.
Iranian authorities have an appalling track record on internet freedom. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are already blocked, as are blogs and other content which might be construed as offending either Islam or the Iranian regime. Another court had already ordered that Instagram be banned last week, apparently over privacy concerns. However, several users in Tehran contacted by VICE News today said they were still able to access it.
Rouhani, a self-declared moderate, was elected on a platform of progressive policies, including easing 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.
Top officials have unrestricted access to the internet and the president continues to maintain his account despite his country’s ban, as do senior government figures like Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even appear to have Instagram accounts.
Rouhani has consistently maintained his dedication to increased internet freedom "We should see the cyber world as an opportunity… Why are we so shaky? Why don't we trust our youth?" he said last week, according to the official IRNA news agency.
Iranian authorities obviously spend a lot of time thinking about Zuckerberg. Earlier this month, a censorship committee announced plans to ban WhatsApp. According to Haaretz, Iran’s Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content decided to block the popular messaging application solely because 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.
Meanwhile, six Iranian men and women were arrested last week after making a video of themselves dancing to Pharrell Williams’s "Happy." They were subsequently released, but the incident serves as a reminder of deeply entrenched opposition to what hardliners see as debauched, Western-influenced behavior.
Rouhani again addressed the issue, albeit indirectly, via his Twitter account, saying “#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.”