Online chatting between men and women on social networks was added to the long list of banned activities in Iran on Monday.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei issued a fatwa (a religious decree) on his official website in response to a query sent to him. The declaration stands in stark contrast to the promises pertaining to free speech and less moral policing made by President Hassan Rouhani.
According to Khamenei, men and women who are not related to each other should not engage in unnecessary conversations since this usually leads to activities which are not permitted in the country’s state religion – Islam.
“Given the immorality that often applies to this, it is not permitted,” he stated.
Before and after his victory in elections this year, Rouhani stated on many occasions that he acknowledged the rights and freedom of Iranians had been ignored in the past and wanted a better progressive environment in the country.
While the recent fatwa may seem absurd and unreasonable to the liberal mind, this is not the first time such a ban has been imposed in Iran citing religious reasons.
In the summer of 2010, hard-line cleric and one of the most influential Iranian leaders, Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, issued a fatwa against keeping dogs and said the trend ‘must stop’.
In the same year, the Iranian authorities, under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, released a list of approved hairstyles in Tehran in an attempt to offer Islamic substitutes to "decadent" western cuts. Haircuts such as the ponytail and the mullet were banned.
In 2011, around 70,000 trained “moral police” officials under Khamenei’s orders were sent out on the streets of Iran to ensure men didn’t wear necklaces and women refrained from wearing skin-tight coats, loose-fitting head scarves and shortened trousers that exposed too much skin.
Iranians – and the world in general – hoped for a less strict online environment under Rouhani, who is believed to be a progressive and a much more tolerant leader than his predecessors. However, given the fact that men and women are not allowed to talk to each other on the internet, is that even possible anymore?