Why Iran wants Mark Zuckerberg to appear in court

Facebook-owned applications Instagram and Whatsapp violate their privacy, say some Iranians in a court case. Another Iranian court blocked Instagram last week.

A judge in southern Iran has ordered Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear in court to answer complaints by individuals who say Facebook-owned applications Instagram and Whatsapp violate their privacy, semiofficial news agency ISNA reported Tuesday.

It quoted Ruhollah Momen Nasab, an official with the paramilitary Basij force, as saying that the judge also ordered the two apps blocked. It is highly unlikely that Zuckerberg would appear in an Iranian court since there is no extradition treaty between Iran and the United States. Some Iranian courts have in recent years issued similar rulings that could not be carried out.

Another Iranian court last week had ordered Instagram blocked over privacy concerns. However, users in the capital, Tehran, still could access both applications around noon Tuesday. In Iran, websites and Internet applications have sometimes been reported blocked but remained operational.

Facebook is already officially banned in the country, along with other social websites like Twitter and YouTube as well as their mobile apps. However some senior leaders like Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are active on Twitter, and many Iranians use proxy servers to access banned websites and applications.

While top officials have unfettered access to social media, Iran's youth and technology-savvy citizens use proxy servers or other workarounds to bypass the controls.

The administration of moderate President Hassan Rouhani is opposed to blocking such websites before authorities create local alternatives. Social media has offered a new way for him and his administration to reach out to the West as it negotiates with world powers over the country's contested nuclear program.

"We should see the cyber world as an opportunity," Rouhani said last week, according to the official IRNA news agency. "Why are we so shaky? Why don't we trust our youth?"

Hard-liners, meanwhile, accuse Rouhani of failing to stop the spread of what they deem as "decadent" Western culture in Iran.

Earlier this month, six Iranian youths were arrested for producing a video of the Pharrell Williams song, "Happy." As The Christian Science Monitor reported from Tehran:

The six dancers were arrested, and last night they were presented on Iranian television soon after their arrest, with their backs to the camera. Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia said the video was “a vulgar clip" which "hurt public chastity” and warned Iranians against further “corrupt” acts.

The arrest, which sparked a firestorm of international criticism on social media, came after President Hassan Rouhani called in a weekend speech for greater Internet freedom. Today, amid reports that the “Happy” group had been released, Mr. Rouhani tweeted a quote from a speech of his last June: “#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.”

In Paris Monday,  Williams said he has "the utmost respect for people's religious views" and doesn't know much about Iranian law.

But he added: "The present is a gift, and if you just want to celebrate your happiness, you should be allowed to do that."

Speaking at an exhibit opening in Paris Monday, he said, "They are just dancing."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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