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Iranian Politicians Who Use Twitter Despite State Ban

Despite the fact that Twitter is banned in Iran, many hard-line Iranian politicians, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, use the social network to reach out to their supporters with statements and messages. (file photo)

Iran's top communications official has suggested that negotiations have begun that could lead to the unblocking of Twitter. But while the social-networking site has been heavily filtered to prevent access in the Islamic republic for years, it has hardly been ignored by some of the country's highest-ranking authorities.

Twitter was not a hugely popular networking tool when it was blocked in 2009 amid massive protests over the reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

At the time Facebook and YouTube were seen as the outlets of choice for spreading information and videos about the nationwide protest and the subsequent harsh crackdown. Twitter was used more outside the country to spread news of the 2009 events.

Despite the obstacles, however, Twitter has since become increasingly popular with Iranians, including among conservative officials who frequently blast social media as a Western spying tool. Despite the apparent contradiction, the hard-liners use Twitter to reach out to their supporters with statements and messages, and to disseminate propaganda.

After recently appointed Communications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said in an interview with the government daily Iran last week that the service no longer needed to be blocked, and that Twitter had announced that it was ready to negotiate to resolve “problems,” RFE/RL was unable to confirm that negotiations were indeed taking place (the U.S.-headquartered company declined to comment to an inquiry about Jahromi's statement).

But the idea that it could be unblocked led us to list some of the bigger Iranian names who have been using Twitter all along.

Ali Khamenei

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, often listed by media watchdogs among the world's top enemies of the Internet, was one of Iran’s first officials to join the social networking site.

The Iranian leader maintains Twitter accounts in several languages, including in English, Farsi, Arabic, and Spanish, and his media team regularly posts his statements, speeches, pictures, as well as infographics.

Khamenei's Twitter accounts follow six other Twitter accounts -- each of them follows its alternative-language counterparts, plus an account named after the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Khamenei's Twitter accounts do not interact with users.

Hassan Rohani

Hassan Rohani (file photo)
Hassan Rohani (file photo)

President Hassan Rohani has a twitter account in Farsi, for his audience at home, and one in English, presumably for Twitter users abroad.

At the time of writing, his Farsi Twitter account had 516,000 followers, while his English account has 686,000 followers.

The accounts Rohani follows include Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif; former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a political ally who died in January; former reformist President Mohammad Khatami; and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

A tweet marking the death of internationally renowned Iranian-born mathematician Mariam Mirzakhani, a message marking Journalists' Day in Iran, and a warning against tearing down the 2015 nuclear deal are among his recent posts on Twitter.

Rohani's Twitter accounts have occasionally retweeted tweets by his supporters and fans.

He's also liked a number of tweets, including one by Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser for former U.S. President Barack Obama, expressing solidarity with Iran following the June 7 deadly attacks in Tehran claimed by the extremist group Islamic State (IS).

Mohammad Javad Zarif

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has a Twitter account in English.

He follows Rohani, Khamenei, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davotglu, Vali Nasr (a renowned expert on the Middle East and South Asia who served as an adviser to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), and several Iranian and foreign journalists.

In recent weeks, Zarif has taken to Twitter to defend Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and to criticize comments by U.S. President Donald Trump.

In 2013, Zarif famously send out a tweet wishing Jews a happy New Year. Zarif also distanced himself from the Holocaust denials regularly made by Mahmud Ahmadinejad when he was president.

Mohammad Khatami

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who faces a media ban, uses social media such as Twitter to spread his statements and speeches as well as for reaching out to Iranians.

Ahead of the 2016 elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, Khatami issued a video statement calling on his supporters to vote for pro-reform and moderate candidates.

The statement, posted on Twitter and other social media, including on the popular app Telegram, went viral.

In May, he issued a similar message calling on his supporters to vote for Rohani in the country's presidential vote.

Among his recent tweets was a call for Khamenei to release opposition figures who've been under house arrest since 2011 and a picture of him visiting those injured in the June terrorist attacks in the Iranian capital that were claimed by IS.

Shahindokht Molaverdi

Shahindokht Molaverdi, a special assistant to President Rohani on citizen's rights who previously served as vice president on women's affairs, is among the rare authority figures in Iran who have interacted with users.

Earlier this week, when users criticized the Education Ministry's guidelines for hiring teachers, she promised on Twitter to look into the situation.

She often tweets about state policies as well as achievements by Iranian women.

One of her recent posts was a picture of the woman elected as head of the city council in Mohajeran, in central Iran.

Massoumeh Ebtekar

Massoumeh Ebtekar, Iran's vice president on women and family affairs, has a Twitter account in Farsi and one in English.

Ebtekar, a spokeswoman for the Islamic student revolutionaries who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the former head of Iran's Department of Environment, used to tweet often about environmental issues.

She's now switched to tweeting about women's issues and achievements by Iranian women.

In a recent tweet, Ebtekar, whose son lives in the United States, denied a claim by an unnamed lawmaker that she has a U.S. Green Card, a document that grants foreign individuals permanent residence in the United States.

Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi

Communications Minister Mohammad Jahromi has been quite active on Twitter of late.

He's blasted Apple for removing Iranian apps, apparently because of U.S. sanctions.

He's also dismissed allegations that he interrogated activists detained in the crackdown on the 2009 protests.

Jahromi follows only four others on Twitter: Khamenei, Khomeini, Rohani, and Rafsanjani. He has now about 8,000 followers, but due to his activism that number is likely to grow.

Mahmud Sadeghi

Reformist lawmaker Mahmud Sadeghi tweets quite often and he also interacts with users.

Last year, he took to Twitter to say that its filtering inside the country was unjustified.

"The activity of senior establishment officials and many figures in this social networking site is proof,” he tweeted.

In July, he highlighted state filtering of the Internet by posting a screengrab of the website of pro-reform Ayatollah Yousef Sanei that appeared to have been blocked inside the country.

"This site has been identified as having criminal content," he tweeted.

Mahmud Ahmadinejad

Former hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad joined Twitter earlier this year, apparently amid efforts to make a political comeback that failed after he was prevented from running in the May presidential vote. The combative Ahmadinejad doesn't follow anyone on Twitter and he only posts in English.

He tweets about peace, justice, and democracy, has praised late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, and posted family photos, including one with his wife.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.