Report: Iran court orders Instagram blocked

This Dec. 6, 2013 file image posted on his official Instagram account shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hiking in the Tochal mountain area north of Tehran, Iran.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An Iranian court ordered that the photo-sharing app Instagram be blocked over privacy concerns, a semiofficial news agency reported Friday, the latest in a series of websites to be banned in the Islamic Republic.

The agency said a court order, stemming from a private lawsuit, had been given to Iran’s Ministry of Telecommunications to ban the site. However, users in the capital, Tehran, still could access the application around noon Friday. Some previous reports in Iran of websites and Internet applications being blocked never materialized.

Officials with Instagram Inc. declined to comment Friday.

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However, Instagram’s owner Facebook is already banned in the country, along with other social websites like Twitter and YouTube. That’s despite senior government leaders like Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif being active on Twitter. There are even Instagram accounts in the names of moderate [?] President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Related: The Financial Times reports on the Happy Iranians:

It is an old tactic: whenever pro-reform forces are in power in Iran, conservatives play up the spectre of a “cultural invasion” by the west in an attempt to rally traditionalists against them.
This week the guardians of the 1979 Islamic revolution seized upon Happy in Tehran, a video showing six young Iranians dancing to the Pharrell Williams song, “Happy”. The American singer-songwriter called for the public to post their own versions online and hundreds have appeared around the world.

The Iranian version was shot on an iPhone and uploaded on to YouTube in April, attracting about 160,000 hits. It showed a group of six young Iranian men and women dancing to the song around the rooftops and small alleyways of the capital, Tehran, in violation of official edicts banning women appearing in public without Islamic covering and forbidding men and women dancing together.

The “Happy Iranians” were arrested on Tuesday by members of the hardline judiciary, who duly paraded the group on state television – a bastion of anti-president forces – and aired their forced confessions. But the broadcast appeared to backfire: in its aftermath the video’s views jumped to 879,000 and the young dancers received enormous support on social media. The video was replicated on other websites and more than 1m people have viewed it over the past week.

The Happy Iranians, with the exception of the director, were released on bail late on Wednesday after pressure from the Iranian and international public and following subtle intervention by President Rouhani.

Despite Twitter being banned, the president tweeted: “#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviours caused by joy.”