Iran president defends telecom minister against judiciary

Tehran: Iran President Hassan Rouhani on Monday brushed off attacks against his telecom minister over charges of failing to create a “safe environment” in social media and leaving Iranian data vulnerable to espionage, state television reported.

According to the judiciary, 2,000 people in the southwestern city of Ahvaz and the general prosecutor’s office have lodged a complaint against the minister, Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi.

“Someone in the judiciary says they’ll lodge a complaint against a young minister. Well, he is not at all intimidated and is doing his job,” said Rouhani, without naming the minister.

“Ok, then, lodge a complaint! The young minister is working for the benefit of the people and pays no heed to pointless orders,” he added defiantly.

A “lack of safe space” in social media has “drawn (young people) to Takfiri (jihadist) groups and eventually led to (last year’s) terrorist incident at the armed forces parade,” a cyberspace official at the prosecutor’s office, Javad Javidnia, told semi-official news agency ISNA.

Back in September 2018 in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, in Khuzestan province bordering Iraq, gunmen killed at least 24 people as they opened fire on the military parade.

Javidnia said a complaint had also been lodged against the managers of Telegram and Instagram.

Iran has in the past blocked access to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and the judiciary blocked the Telegram messaging app in May.

The judiciary has also accused Azari-Jahromi, at 37 the youngest member of Rouhani’s cabinet, of leaving Iran’s “big data” vulnerable to access by its enemies, which enables them to commit “internet espionage”.

“Foreigners can analyse this data and use it to disrupt the country’s security and stability,” Javidnia told ISNA.

The judiciary has frequently clashed with the telecom minister.

In January, Azari-Jahromi opposed a mulled ban on the photo- and video-sharing application Instagram, saying it would only create new problems for the Islamic republic.

Despite restrictions, top Iranians officials like Rouhani and the minister himself use services such as Twitter, which are widely accessible via proxy servers.