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US calls on social-media networks to block Iranian leader accounts

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This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States has called on social-media giants Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to suspend accounts linked to Iranian government leaders until Internet coverage is restored in that country.

“It is a deeply hypocritical regime,” Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told Bloomberg News in an interview posted on the official State Department Twitter account.

“It shuts down the Internet while its government continues to use all of these social-media accounts.”

“So one of the things that we are calling on are social-media companies like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter to shut down the accounts of Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, the Foreign Minister [Mohammad Javad] Zarif and President [Hassan] Rohani until they restore the Internet to their own people,” Hook said.

The Iranian government imposed a near-total shutdown of the Internet as anti-government protests erupted over the past week throughout the country, although monitoring groups have said connectivity has increased over the past two days.

Iranian officials have claimed that the protests, which were thought to have spread to more than 100 cities after an announcement of gasoline rationing and price hikes on November 15, have died down, but there is no way to confirm the assertion.

Tehran blamed foreign enemies including the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, and “thugs” for some of the worst public violence in Iran in a decade.

The government says five people have died, but outside rights groups, including Amnesty International, put the total at more than 100.

“The regime shut down the Internet because they’re trying to hide all of the death and tragedy that the regime has been inflicting on thousands of protesters around the country,” Hook said.

AFP said that Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The United States on November 22 imposed sanctions on Iranian Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi for what it said was his role in the “vast censorship” of the Internet.