President Hassan Rohani re-entered Iran’s feverish debate on Internet censorship and gender segregation yesterday, saying neither policy was in the country’s interest.
Rohani was elected last year having pledged to be more moderate on social issues after his conservative predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s eight-year tenure, but he has encountered resistance.
Iran has a policy of filtering online content, which leaves popular websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube inaccessible without the use of illegal software.
The decision of Rohani’s government to approve faster 3G mobile Internet licences for two Iranian companies last month was seen as a first step toward making Internet access easier.
But he went further yesterday and said filtering was counter-productive.
“Some people think we can fix these problems by building walls, but when you create filters, they create proxies,” Rohani said, referring to proxy servers in other countries used by Iranians to circumvent national regulations.
“This (current policy) does not work. Force does not produce results,” he added, in a speech broadcast live on state television.
The 3G licences decision caused controversy with conservative clerics and officials arguing that video call functions on smartphones could expose youngsters to “immoral content”.
Iran’s ministry of telecommunications, technology and information later stated that video calling would not be available, despite such services—including FaceTime and Skype—being accessible on regular Internet connections.
Rohani also hit out at the recent decision of Tehran’s municipality to segregate staff by gender, a step implemented by the capital’s mayor and hailed by conservatives.
Referring to those who “constantly say we must separate girls and boys”, he said the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, vehemently opposed universities adopting such a policy after the 1979 revolution.
However, Rohani defended the veil and use of hijab, saying that it protects women.
Since Rohani took office last August he has been accused of being too soft on hijab—in October he asked police to be moderate when enforcing the requirement.
Recent years have seen many women wear a thin veil that barely covers the hair and tight clothing or coats reaching mid-thigh instead of the long coat or chador, prompting MPs to write to Rohani to demand tougher police action.