Iran’s president Hassan Rohani, a moderate, has never officially confirmed that he has a Twitter account, but Iran’s journalists all cite this as is his official account as it regularly features exclusive photos of the president and his family.
For journalists in Iran, there is no doubt that this latest tweet, which congratulates the Iranian-American mathematician Mirzkhani, was posted with the president’s blessing. The tweet features two photos of Mirzkhani, with and without a veil, the latter sparking fury amongst Iran’s hardliners.
As soon as the tweet was posted, it became a hot topic of discussion for Iranians online. Many saw it as a groundbreaking moment:
The president’s relative freedom of expression, however, is not extended to everyone in Iran. Not even reformist media outlets dared republish the photo of Mirzkhani without a veil. The newspaper Shargh ran an illustration in which her hair is blended into a chalkboard behind her.
Another reformist newspaper decided to crop the photograph so as to leave out her hair entirely.
Iran, which is the government’s official newspaper, tried a different approach. Upon analysis, our journalists found that the image they ran on the front page is a montage of two different photos: the background and the veil were taken from one of the photos Rohani tweeted, while her face and wisps of her hair were taken from a higher-quality photograph in which she was not wearing a veil.
It is unclear why the newspaper's editors did this: It might be because they wanted to use a high-quality photograph, but weren't allowed to publish it without adding a veil. Or perhaps they just wanted to add the wisp of hair as a discreet form of rebellion.
Meanwhile, the conservative newspaper Vatan Emrouz apparently felt this wasn’t big news, and ran only a short article on page 4 with a tiny photo, in which Mirzkhani is veiled.
Kayhan, the country’s biggest conservative newspaper, didn’t write anything about her prize at all.