By Syed Zafar Mehdi
TEHRAN (AA) – Iran’s telecom minister and the youngest member of President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, was summoned by the country’s general prosecutor Wednesday and later released on bail.
Jamal Hadian, a spokesman for the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, in a statement said the minister appeared before a prosecutor in Tehran’s Culture and Media Court and was released after questioning.
According to reports, Jahromi faces an indictment over the ministry’s failure to comply with an order issued by Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace to filter Instagram, block virtual private networks (VPNs) and promote locally developed messengers.
It remains unclear when the minister will be asked to appear before the court again, but the prosecutor’s office in Tehran said the probe into charges leveled against him continues.
A statement from the prosecutor’s office said the case against Jahromi constitues complaints made by several individuals and entities, although many charges have been omitted.
Access to many social media apps like Facebook, Telegram and Twitter has remained blocked in Iran for years, which has made the use of anti-filter proxies, or VPNs, indispensable in the country.
Last year, Iran’s parliament proposed tougher restrictions on the use of social media in the country and establishing a commission that would oversee violations.
This is not the first time Iran’s telecom and information minister has been put in the dock by the country’s powerful judiciary to filter or block social media platforms deemed “inappropriate.”
Jahromi’s predecessor, Mahmoud Vaezi, had also faced warnings in 2014 over failure to block social media sites and apps, which authorities in Iran say are filled with “immoral and criminal content.”
However, Jahromi’s indictment is significant, as it comes ahead of the presidential election in Iran, with many reformist pundits putting him on the list of probable reformist candidates.
Iran’s Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar on Wednesday came out strongly in support of the minister, saying he was “under pressure for his legitimate defense of the constitution and freedom of speech.”
Last month, President Rouhani’s two close aides were also summoned by a prosecutor in Tehran over charges ranging from compromising national security to insulting the country’s founder.