Has Iran’s Supreme Leader Joined Facebook?

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An Iranian boy holds a portrait of supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali khamenei.

Facebook may be banned in Iran, but that hasn’t apparently stopped its 73-year-old supreme leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, from joining up.

With accounts on other social media networks such as Twitter, Google+ and Instagram, the country’s authoritarian spiritual leader now appears to have an official Facebook page, launched Dec. 13. It’s not clear whether this is an extension of those other official profiles, though experts believe that it could be: the page was first mentioned on the supreme leader’s Twitter account, and is similar in tone to his other official profiles. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland joked on Monday that U.S. officials will be curious to see how many ‘likes’ it receives, adding that they will be looking into its authenticity.

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So far the page has gathered more than 11,000 ‘likes’, but there are unlikely to be many from Iran: the social networking site has been banned there since 2009, when members of Iran’s Green Movement used it to rally anti-government protests, although many continue to log on using proxy servers or specialized software to get around the block.

Iranian authorities, meanwhile, continue to demonize the social media network as a “Zionist” instrument. Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, an official of Iran’s online censorship body, stated earlier this year that posting any materials on Facebook that might be seen as contravening Islamic principles would be regarded as a crime.

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It appears that Khamenei is in no danger of doing that with this new profile. The official team behind his page has so far posted pictures and videos, including an instagram picture of a young Khamenei during the first days of the Islamic Revolution in the early 1960s.

“Social media gives the regime leadership another medium of communication,” Middle East expert Afshon Ostovar, of U.S.-based research organization CNA, told Reuters. “One that can share their message with a young and far more international demographic.”

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Users have posted comments ranging from “I love you Khamenei” to “you’ve done a great service to Iran and that is the spread of corruption, prostitution and lies.”

Some commenters on Khamenei’s page have called for an end to the state control over Facebook. Radio Free Europe has a translation of one user’s comments: “God willing, by removing the filtering from this site and the presence of more officials, and accepting the conditions of the youth, the path for the country’s future could become bright.”

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Those who call out the cleric on social media could however face repercussions from Iranian officials. Blogger Sattar Beheshti, who was arrested in November for criticizing the government on his blog and Facebook page, died in custody after complaining of being tortured. The Iranian parliament has announced an official investigation into the case, and has since sacked its top cyber police chief.