Iranian Minister Says Government ‘Never Promised’ to End Web Censorship

Screenshot of Hassan Rouhani Facebook page.

Screenshot of Hassan Rouhani Facebook page.

“The Rouhani government never promised to open things that were filtered in the past,” Iran's Minister of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Mahmoud Vaezi told reporters at an Aug. 21 press conference. Vaezi's statement comes after more than a year of discussions and debates within Iran's media and government on unfiltering popular social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. 

“At the moment private companies and universities should try to create social media networks within the country for citizens to use,” said Vaezi, responding to questions about whether Iranians would soon gain access to Facebook and Twitter, both of which are blocked in the country.

“The Government is trying to eliminate those things that the people of this country are opposed to, and within our nation, which is a Islamic nation, families pay special attention to ethical matters and they are not happy with accessibility of these non permitted websites.” Vaezi went on to explain that the decision ultimately lies outside of the Ministry of ICT, and is in the hands of the Judiciary's Committee Charged with Determining Offensive Content (CCDOC). 

Vaezi's words contradict many general, if promising, statements President Hassan Rouhani made about liberalizing Internet controls when coming into office. Rouhani criticized the state of Iran’s Internet throughout his election campaign, noting in June of 2013: “We are living in a world in which limiting information is impossible. Youth are faced with bombardment of information and we must prepare to handle it.” 

Rouhani underlined this sentiment a conference on Information and Communication Technologies in May 2014, where he spoke on the importance of having Iranian voices on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

In a January 2014 interview with Al Jazeera English, Rouhani's Culture Minister Ali Jannati stated, “All Iranians are using Facebook. Based on our figures, 4 million are members, so sooner or later the restrictions on it must be lifted.” But contradictions within Rouhani's cabinet emerged in January 2014 when a CCDOC meeting indicated indecision among authorities about state control over social networks. At the time, Vaezi stated that the Committee had agreed that “anti-religious and immoral sites” would be blocked, while those that “do not instigate corruption” and increase public knowledge would freely be accessible. 

At the moment, Rouhani's government does not seem to have a coherent policy on access to information. Despite the fact that Facebook is filtered in the country, President Hassan Rouhani and many in his cabinet, particularly Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, are among the most savvy and popular Facebook users within Iran.

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