Facebook-owned social media platform Instagram announced on Tuesday it blocked the accounts of numerous Iranian officials, including commanders in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in compliance with U.S. sanctions.
Another major Iranian account removed by Instagram belonged to IRGC Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani, one of the most popular and influential figures in Iran. Soleimani’s account had over 888,000 followers.
Ayatollah Khamenei lost 21,400 followers when his English-language account was suspended. He has a much more popular Instagram account in Farsi with 2.5 million followers that was still active as of Wednesday morning.
The United States formally classified the IRGC, controlled by the theocratic wing of the Iranian government, as a foreign terrorist organization on April 8.
“We work with appropriate government authorities to ensure we meet our legal obligations, including those relating to the recent designation of the IRGC,” a spokesperson for Instagram said.
The bans will sting because Instagram is the only major social media platform that is not banned in Iran. Many Iranians get around the bans using virtual private network (VPN) technology to access platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Iran’s Tasnim News Agency claimed on Wednesday that “many Iranian officials have announced that they do not have any official account at Instagram or any other social networking services, and the pages attributed to them have been created by their fans.”
The Instagram ban nonetheless outraged the Iranian government.
“When you tear out a man’s tongue, you aren’t proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you FEAR what he might say,” thundered Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari, using a Twitter account that Iranians cannot read without using advanced communications and information technology to bypass totalitarian government censorship.