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Iran's president criticizes prosecution of telecom minister

In this Jan. 7, 2021 file photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday criticized Iran's hard-liner dominated judiciary over last week's prosecution of the countrys telecommunications minister.

    Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi was released on bail after he was summoned for prosecution. Judiciary officials cited his refusal to block Instagram and impose limitations on the bandwidth of other foreign social media and messaging systems.

    Speaking in a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Rouhani said improving the bandwidth of the Internet was done on his orders. "If you want to try someone, try me. It was my order," he said.

    Under pressure from hard-liners, the Iranian government has long blocked access to many websites and social media platforms, from YouTube and Facebook to Twitter and Telegram.

    The relatively moderate Rouhani said increasing bandwidth would help improve business and an anti-corruption campaign. However he said both a "lack of control on content" as well as "closure" of social media are wrong.

    The move to prosecute Jahromi is part of a political struggle between moderates and conservative hard-liners ahead of June elections. Jahromi is seen as a possible candidate who has the support of younger Iranians.

    Hard-liners in the country's parliament and other powerful bodies have long viewed social messaging services as part of "soft war" by the West against the Islamic Republic.

    Many Iranians, mostly youth, access social media through VPNs and proxies. Instagram and WhatsApp remain unblocked.

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