TEHRAN — Internet users in Iran were surprised on Monday to find that they could access Facebook and Twitter without having to evade the government’s firewall, which had blocked direct access to the Web sites for years. It was not immediately clear whether the government had made an official decision to stop blocking the sites, which it walled off from Iranian users in 2009, saying they were being used by antigovernment protesters to organize demonstrations. To reach the sites, many Iranians began using virtual private network, or VPN, software to connect through computers located outside the country, though the telecommunications ministry eventually deployed technology to block much of that kind of traffic as well. The country’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has promised several times to reduce Internet censorship, and several of his cabinet ministers, including the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have set up Facebook pages and opened Twitter accounts, some of them quite active. Iranian Internet users reacted to the apparent unblocking on Monday as if a digital Berlin Wall had just crumbled on their computer screens.
“Hurray, I came to Facebook without using VPN,” a user called Bita posted on her wall. “Thank you Rouhani!!!,” Nima wrote. In a twist of timing, an American Web-hosting company recently shut down the Web site of Mehdi Karroubi, an opposition leader who has been under house arrest since February 2011, to comply with United States sanctions that block hosting any site with the domain .ir, for Iran, Reuters reported Monday.
In Iran, Internet censorship is the responsibility of the Supreme Council for Cyberspace, which has made millions of Web pages off limits for Iranians, including the Web site of The New York Times. A special police unit visits Internet users at home, especially in smaller cities, and warns them not to try to visit blocked sites. It was especially difficult to sidestep the firewall in June, around the time of the Iranian presidential election. In the days before the vote, supporters of the outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fought for hours with officials at an Internet filtering center when several sites favoring Mr. Ahmadinejad were blocked. Several hard-line politicians have made public comments in recent days calling Facebook “a Zionist tool,” but the fact that it was accessible in Iran on Monday suggested that the censorship council, which Mr. Rouhani heads, might have decided otherwise.
Source : nytimes.com/2013/09/17/world/middleeast/iran-facebook-twitter-access.html