On Monday, Iran’s police chief criticized Iranian officials who use social media, Mehr news agency reported, reigniting domestic debate on Tehran's de facto ban on popular websites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
"By violating the law (themselves), the officials should bear in mind that their actions should not pave the way for others to violate the law," Police Chief Esmaeel Ahmadi Moghaddam said, according to the Agence France-Presse.
Moghaddam's comments were interpreted as a direct affront to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zari and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who have become world renowned for their Twitter diplomacy.
Iran currently blocks access to social media sites, though an estimated 2 million Iranians use VPMs to bypass the ban and access Twitter and Facebook.
The police chief's comments were the latest in an ongoing public conversation in Iran.
Last month, the country's minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Ali Jannati, called for the legalization of social media. Jannati does not have the legal authority to remove the restrictions, but his comments were widely covered in the Iranian press.
This week, judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie reportedly insinuated that Iran would consider allowing access to Facebook if the network complied with Iran state censors, according to an Iranian human rights group. The official IRNA news agency quoted Ejeie as saying that his department opposed Facebook, as it "promotes corruption and prostitution and publishes articles against public chastity."
Iran's recent nuclear deal has raised some hopes for future reforms. Rouhani is described as a moderate in the Iranian political context. His pragmatic embrace of social media is often cited as a sign of his tilt toward a more liberalized Iran.
@HassanRouhani (the president's official account) retweeted this lighthearted photo a few days ago after an interview with the Financial Times.
The Financial Times reported on the context:
Asked how he could have a Twitter account (and a very active one) when the site is one of many that are blocked in Iran, he deflects the question with humour.
"You can do it even now," he tells his visitors, as the hall packed with aides erupts into laughter. Then, shifting to a serious tone, he suggests that this is the kind of problem that he should be able to resolve soon.
The pressure is on: To mark Rouhani's 100th day, Iranians created this mash-up of a popular speech in his honor. It was widely shared on social media.
Rouhani tweeted the YouTube link too.
So did the foreign minister.
But grave problems persist. A recent story in The Guardian reported that press restrictions have declined since Rouhani's election, but the press still operates in a climate of great uncertainty where the "red lines" of what is fit to print and post lie.
Disturbing reports of arrests and executions in Iran also continue to make headlines.
Meanwhile, Rouhani continues to battle with conservatives in Iran who oppose his political platforms. Earlier Tuesday, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invited Rouhani to a public debate over what Ahmadinejad called "baseless and unfair accusations" that he is largely responsible for the country's economic ills. Rouhani has reportedly accepted the invitation, according to a chief advisor quoted in Al Monitor, "with the condition that the former president accepts the condition of observing the truth."