Iran should embrace the Internet rather than see it as a threat, President Hassan Rouhani has said, in remarks that challenge hardliners who have stepped up measures to censor the Web.
Rouhani, a comparative moderate elected last year, said trying to win the battle for public influence by restricting the Internet was like bringing a wooden sword to a gunfight.
The weekend speech distances Rouhani from rival conservative clerics, some close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who promote censorship as a tool for protecting the 1979 Islamic revolution which brought the Shi’ite Muslim clergy to power.
It was also his most forceful signal yet of a break with the social media policy of predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who rounded up bloggers and tightened online controls in an eight-year term, especially after protesters used social media to organise mass street demonstrations in 2009.
“We ought to see (the Internet) as an opportunity. We must recogniZe our citizens’ right to connect to the World Wide Web,” said Rouhani according to the official IRNA news agency.
“Why are we so shaky? Why have we cowered in a corner, grabbing onto a shield and a wooden sword, lest we take a bullet in this culture war?” he said in his weekend speech.
“Even if there is an onslaught, which there is, the way to face it is via modern means, not passive and cowardly methods.”
Iran has long had a contradictory attitude towards the Internet. Access to sites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube is blocked for most Iranians, but Khamenei himself joined Twitter and Facebook in 2009 and is now a prolific user of both.
Read more at YNET.