Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa (religious edict) banning online chatting between unrelated men and women, Iranian media reported on Monday, according to Al Arabiya.
Ironically, Khamenei’s ruling came a day after Iran’s Foreign Minister touted his country as a “model for democracy” in the region.
“Given the immorality that often applies to this, it is not permitted,” the Supreme Leader responded to a question posted to his website on the issue.
The ruling came days after Iranian authorities blocked WeChat, a popular messaging application that enables smart phone users to access online social networks.
The authorities in Tehran are sensitive to social media and have blocked access to many social networking websites, including Facebook and Twitter, used by activists to stage protests after the 2009 controversial presidential vote. Iranians deemed to be “assisting anti-government websites” are arrested on a regular basis.
Many Iranian internet users are relying on proxies to circumvent the government censorship.
Ironically, many Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, have active Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Rouhani has expressed openness to revamp the rules regarding the country’s long-time policy of censorship.
In a speech he delivered a month before being sworn in, Rouhani said that a strong government does not “limit the lives of the people.”
In October, Iran’s Culture Minister Ali Janati said that his department will review a ban imposed on certain books which censors have barred from publication.
Yet, despite the censorship, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday that the Islamic Republic was “a successful model which has seen successive administrations with different political views,” according to the local Tasnim news agency.
Zarif, who spoke with the Chairman of the Italian Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, praised Iran’s capability to represent a “successful model” of democracy in the Middle East, saying the region has drawn inspiration from Iran and the model of governance it has offered.
“Iran can play a significant role in the region,” Zarif said, according to Tasnim.
“Extremist measures and attitudes would not yield results,” the Iranian minister underlined.