Twitter blocks Iran media accounts over Bahai harassment

Twitter is barred in Iran but users access the website by using a VPN

FILE PHOTO: Electronic cables are silhouetted next to the logo of Twitter in this September 23, 2014 illustration photo in Sarajevo.   REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
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Twitter has suspended accounts of Iranian state news outlets over harassment of people associated with the Bahai faith, the social media service told The National on Sunday.

Among those suspended on Saturday were the state-run news agency Irna, Mehr, Irib and the Young Journalists' Club.

“We have suspended a series of accounts for multi-account abuse and other forms of platform manipulation," a Twitter source said.

"These accounts were engaging in co-ordinated and targeted harassment of people associated with the Bahai faith."

The source did not name the suspended accounts but said it was continuing to investigate the matter.

The Bahai faith, an offshoot of Islam, originated in Iran 150 years ago.

The sect claims to have about five million members worldwide, including several hundred thousand in Iran, where Tehran’s religious leaders consider the faith unorthodox.

Bahais say hundreds of followers have been jailed or executed since Iran’s revolution in 1979.

But speculation arose that the account suspensions were linked to the agencies coverage of Iran seizing a British-flagged tanker in Omani territorial waters on Friday.

“Account suspended. Twitter suspends accounts that violate the Twitter Rules,” said a message on each of the Iranian media outlets accounts.

Mehr news agency said on its English website that it did not know the official reasons behind Twitter's actions.

The agency said its Mehr Diplomacy account, which publishes analysis and interviews on foreign policy, was also offline.

The  Young Journalists' Club criticised the suspension, saying the agencies “had no other purpose than the publication of news and information".

“Since last night and after seizure of a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the account of the Young Journalists’ Club and some other users have been suspended,” it said.

The club said that accounts of “other Iranian users” were also suspended.

The account of Iranian hard-line Speaker Ali Akbar Raefipoor is also offline.

Although Twitter is blocked in Iran, users continue to access the website on virtual private networks.