US demands Iran stop blocking social media
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US demands Iran stop blocking social media

Washington advises citizens of Islamic Republic to set up virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent online censorship

Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017.
(AFP PHOTO / STR)
Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

The United States on Tuesday urged Iran to stop blocking online social media and advised its citizens to set up virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent online censorship.

Steve Goldstein, the State Department’s under-secretary for public diplomacy, denounced Iran’s attempts to restrict net access and urged Iranians to find a way to log in. He said Instagram, Telegram and other platforms are “legitimate avenues for communication.”

“People in Iran should be able to access these sites through VPN,” he said, adding that the State Department’s own Farsi language Facebook page has around 700,000 subscribers.

“The more available these sites are the better it is,” he said, as street protests continued against what US President Donald Trump has branded Iran’s “brutal and corrupt” regime.

The US has an “obligation not to stand by,” said Goldstein.

The Iranian authorities have blocked access to online messaging services, including Telegram, in a bid to stall further demonstrations after days of unrest that have seen 21 people killed and hundreds arrested in the biggest test for the Islamic regime in years.

Trump, who has repeatedly criticized Tehran since the latest protests began, praised the demonstrators for acting against the “brutal and corrupt” regime and said Iranians had “little food, big inflation and no human rights.”

Iran’s foreign ministry fired back that the US leader was “wasting his time sending useless and insulting tweets” and would be better off focusing on “homeless and hungry people” in his own country.

In a speech carried on state television, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday broke his silence on the protests for the first time since they erupted last Thursday.

“The enemies have united and are using all their means, money, weapons, policies and security services to create problems for the Islamic regime,” the supreme leader said.

“The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation.”

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