By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Hard-line Iranian legislators allege that members of Iran’s government have met to discuss unblocking Facebook in Iran. Their criticism of the alleged meeting highlights the opposition Iranian President Hassan Rohani and his team face within Iran while trying to honor election campaign promises to ease censorship and make the country more open.
Lawmaker Fatemeh Rahbar, known for her hard-line stances, told the semi-official Fars news agency that presidential adviser Mohammad Reza Sadegh discussed lifting the block on Facebook with representatives of six ministries -- including the ministries of science, culture, and intelligence.
Rahbar said Sadegh should explain whether he organized the meeting on his own initiative or because of orders from President Rohani.
She also said the issue will be pursued by Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament.
In a speech on November 20, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei referred to social media as tools that Iran's “enemies” have used against the Islamic Republic.
Khamenei specifically mentioned Twitter and Facebook -- two social-networking sites that have been used by activists and opposition figures to inform the world about Iran’s human rights abuses and censorship.
Khamenei noted that opposition protesters who disputed the reelection of Iran’s former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2009 were able to use social-media networks.
Calling those protesters “seditionists,” Khamenei also noted reports from Washington at the time that said the U.S. State Department had asked Twitter to postpone an upgrade plan that would have temporarily cut off the system.
In his November 20 speech, Khamenei said “they were hoping to bring down the Islamic establishment through media activity and with the help of Twitter and Facebook.”
Lawmaker Rahbar during the weekend cited Khamenei's comments while arguing that the role of social networks has become clear to Iran and to the whole world.
She said instead of promoting Western social-networking sites, the country's elite should promote similar Iranian sites.
Lawmaker Ahmad Amirabadi also said that if unblocking Facebook would violate the policies of the Islamic establishment, parliament would stand against it.
Iranian state media quotes Amirabadi as saying: "I think the filtering of Facebook is positive, it shouldn't be removed."
President Rohani has spoken out against tough state censorship and has promised to end Iran's "security atmosphere."
The use of social networking sites by Rohani's cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, has led to increased debates within the country about access to social-networking sites that are among the tens of thousands of websites banned in Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has a very popular facebook page
Iranians still can access blocked sites through anti-filtering tools.
Hard-liners oppose the lifting of social media filters, which they describe as tools of Western intelligence agencies and "Zionists."
Iran's Culture Minister Ali Jannati has spoken in favor of legalizing access to Facebook. But he has made it clear that the government is not the sole decision maker.
Earlier in November, Jannati said he doesn’t control Internet bans, which are overseen by a screening committee that is not under the direct control of his ministry.
Jannati acknowledged that the Culture Ministry does have one representative on that committee.
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