Ayatollah beats web ban to join Facebook

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Facebook – banned in Iran due to its use by activists to rally government opponents in 2009 – has an unlikely new member: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Launched a few days ago, the Facebook page “Khamenei.ir” displays photographs of the 73-year-old cleric alongside speeches and pronouncements by the man who wields ultimate power in the Islamic Republic.

While there are several other Facebook pages already devoted to the Ayatollah, the new one – whose number of “likes” quadrupled yesterday to over 1,000 – appeared to be officially authorised, rather than merely the work of admirers.

The page has been publicised by a Twitter account of the same name that Iran experts believe is run by his office.

Both US-based social media sites are blocked in Iran, but they are still commonly used by millions of Iranians who use special software to get around the ban.

In 2009, social media proved a vital tool for those Iranians who believed the re-election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was rigged. Facebook was used to help organise street protests on a scale not seen since the ­Islamic Revolution of 1979.

The protests – which the government said were fuelled by Iran’s foreign enemies – were stamped out by the security forces and their political figureheads remain under house arrest.

The Facebook page has so far shared a picture of a young Ayatollah Khamenei alongside the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, taken in the early 1960s.

It has a similar tone, style and content to accounts devoted to disseminating the cleric’s message on Twitter and Instagram and to the website www.khamenei.ir, an official website published in 13 languages.