Iran Bans Men and Women Who Aren't Related From Chatting Online

Ayatollah Khamenei issues religious edict, Iranian media report, even as Iran pledges to ease state 'policing' of people's private lives.

Iran's supreme leader has reportedly banned online chatting between males and females who are not relatives.

According to a report by El Arabiya News citing Iranian media, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued the ban Monday in a response to a question posted on his website in which he wrote, "Given the immorality that often applies to this, it is not permitted."

Since Iran's controversial 2009 presidential election and the social protests that followed the vote, authorities in Tehran have been restricting access to social networking websites, including Facebook and Twitter, in fear of future upheaval, the report said. However, many Iranians circumvent access restrictions via Internet proxies.

Days before Khamenei issued the online messaging ban, Iranian authorities shut down WeChat, a popular messaging app that enables smart phones to access social networks, the report said.

Not all Iranian officials agree with the social media restrictions, the report said: Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who has 163,000 Twitter followers, recently pledged to ease state "policing" of people's private lives.

In November, 2013, Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Ali Jannati told Iran's state news agency IRNA that "Not only Facebook, but other social networks should be accessible and the illegal qualification should be removed," El Arabiya News reported.