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19 Jan 2020 1:25
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  •   Home > News > International

    Facebook admits censoring posts supporting slain Iranian General Qassem Soleimani

    Facebook admits censoring posts about slain Iranian General Qassem Soleimani that it says violate US sanction laws, including posts from dozens of Iranian journalists and influencers.

    Social media giant Facebook has admitted to censoring posts in support of slain Iranian General Qassem Soleimani that it says violate US sanction laws, including posts from dozens of Iranian journalists and Instagram influencers.

    In the days following the US drone strike that killed General Soleimani, thousands of Iranians flooded their social media accounts with tributes to the high-ranking General.

    Many found their posts had been deleted for "violating community standards", while some users found their accounts had been deleted altogether, including at least 15 Iranian journalists, the Association of Iranian Journalists in Tehran (AIJT) said.

    In a statement provided to the ABC, Facebook admitted to deleting posts and accounts that it said did not comply with US sanctions.

    "To comply with these [US] sanctions, we remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of a sanctioned party as well as remove content posted by others that supports or represents the sanctioned group or individual," a Facebook spokesperson told the ABC.

    Facebook and its parent company Instagram are required to adhere to US sanctions laws, which the company said "vary by circumstance".

    "We review content against our policies and our obligations to US sanctions laws, specifically those related to the US government's designation of the IRGC and its leadership as a terrorist organisation."

    General Soleimani was an Iranian Major in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and, from 1998 until his death in 2020, commander of its Quds Force.

    Iranian media ban deemed 'unacceptable'

    While some profiles had been restored, the International Federation of Journalists (IJF) claimed posts simply mentioning General Soleimani were deleted permanently.

    IFJ general secretary Anthony Bellanger said: "At a time when Iranian citizens need access to information it is unacceptable that Instagram should choose to censor Iranian media and individual journalists and users."

    IFJ spokesperson Jeremy Dear told the ABC that this type of censorship only "further restricts independent media".

    "It is not only an obvious example of politics trumping media freedom but it also undermines the credibility of social media platforms as an arena for free expression," Mr Dear said.

    "This poses an immediate threat to freedom of information in Iran".

    The AIJT has written to Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri urging the company stop the censorship.

    In its letter to Instagram the AIJT dubbed the move as "unprecedented in the history of social networks and in conflict with the very innate actuality of media" and said the action goes "against global standard principles including freedom of speech and media and therefore demands immediate correction of such measures".

    Roshan Rizvi, who manages several Facebook pages about Indian politics with more than 40,000 followers, said he can't access any of his accounts after he was banned for commemorating the death of General Soleimani.

    "He [General Soleimani] was a saviour for those who were trapped under the brutal killers called ISIS," he told the ABC.

    General Soleimani was also a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, a hero to many Shiite Muslims and popular in many quarters of the Middle East.

    Mr Rizvi also claims Twitter did the same thing.

    "I didn't post anything, I just followed an account that was giving live updates of the attack that happened at Al-Asad base and my account was suspended," he said.

    Iranian government takes legal action against Instagram

    The Iranian Government has called for nationwide legal action against Instagram in protest, creating a portal for the app's users to submit examples of posts the company removed, according to Iranian media.

    The government issued the call on its website on Tuesday local time, saying the move by Instagram "once again served to prove [the US's attempt at imposing] a one-way flow of information and its new way of trying to enforce its rule through Washington-associated social networks."

    "It showed that those who claim to be supporting a free flow of information, in effect, attach no value to the cyberworld users' freedom and rights," it added.

    While Facebook and Twitter are banned in Iran, many can still access sites using VPNs.

    Instagram, however is one of the few platforms that is not banned.

    The platform has an estimated 24 million active users in Iran, though reports say it's only a matter of time before it gets blocked by the government.

    In a tweet, Iran's government spokesperson, Ali Rabiei, called Instagram's actions "undemocratic."

    Instagram shut down General Soleimani's account on the platform last April after the US government designated the IRGC a foreign terrorist organisation.

    Government-owned and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-affiliated media agencies such as Tasnim News Agency, the Iran Newspaper and Jamaran News all had their accounts removed entirely by Instagram.

    Users claim generic General Soleimani posts not exempt from ban

    In some cases, social media users have said the measures have gone even further with posts including Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei being removed.

    Iranian television station Press TV's UK branch reported being permanently disabled by YouTube without any explanation.

    Iranian influencers, human rights advocates and activists have also experienced account shutdowns.

    Muslim activist Afreen Rizvi faced severe restrictions for posting a photo of Ayatollah Khamenei kissing General Soleimani on the cheek with the comment, "My heart is broken".

    "It's absolutely ridiculous that they are removing posts, banning accounts, and permanently disabling pages that have posted anything in relation to General Q.S[oleimani]," she said in a Facebook post.

    Meanwhile US President Donald Trump has retweeted a fake image depicting congressional Democrats' top-ranked leaders in traditional Muslim attire in front of the Iranian flag.

    The manipulated photo shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer in Muslim garb with the caption: "The corrupted Dems trying their best to come to the Ayatollah's rescue #NancyPelosiFakeNews."


    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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