x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Iran blocks Facebook

The social networking site Facebook has been blocked by the Iran government ahead of presidential polls.

Iran has blocked access to Facebook ahead of June presidential polls, allegedly to prevent supporters of the leading opposition candidate from using the site for his campaign, ILNA news agency said yesterday. "Access to the Facebook site was prohibited several days ahead of the presidential election," ILNA, considered close to Iranian reformists, said in reference to the June 12 vote. An employee of an internet service provider who requested anonymity said the ministry of communications and information technology had announced the decision.

There was no immediate comment from the authorities on the claims. In the United States, Facebook said it had received reports its website had been blocked in Iran, lamenting the apparent government bar as "a shame". "We are disappointed to learn of reports that users in Iran may not have access to Facebook," the company told AFP. Facebook said it was investigating the reports, and expressed disappointment that the globally popular social networking site was apparently blocked "at a time when voters are turning to the internet as a source of information about election candidates and their positions."

ILNA reported: "according to certain internet surfers, the site was banned because supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi were using Facebook to better disseminate the candidate's positions." One Facebook page dedicated to Mr Mousavi has more than 5,200 supporters. It contains biographical information on the candidate and a statement on his proposed policies, as well as photographs both of him and of his fans.

As is the case with any such Facebook page, there are also comments posted by fans, as well as one by the candidate himself, saying "Ahmadinejad's government has dishonoured Iranians across the world". There are also a number of pages dedicated to Mr Ahmadinejad but none of them appear to have backing from the president's campaign. Mr Mousavi partisans were already reacting to the cut, with some announcing alternative addresses to access Facebook.

"We need to let everyone know by e-mail," wrote Parastoo Salamat. Meanwhile, Payham Ebrahimi wrote: "we are waiting for a firm reaction from Mousavi." Also vying for the presidency are former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai and ex-parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi. Facebook, founded in 2004 by former Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, claims to have 175 million members worldwide. In Iran, the service is normally available in Farsi and in English.