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Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei outs his supreme-self as arty hipster

Instagram photo-bloggers get an unlikely new friend

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Iran's Supreme Leader of 23 years, "divine" boss of the country's military, judiciary, and state broadcasting services, has joined hipster cupcake-pic site Instagram and posted four photos.

Ayatollah Khamenei, or more realistically a member of his staff, appears to have created an account, khamenei_ir, where arty snapshots of prayer sessions and meetings with "officials and agents" have been posted using the twee colour filters available on the app. The Iranian establishment is notoriously not the greatest fan of bloggers, though Khamenei already has 5,066 followers on micro-blogging platform Twitter.

The ruling clerical establishment, with Khamenei at its helm, holds absolute power in Iran and directly controls all broadcast media, and is well-known for its internet censorship and surveillance, which was ramped up during the 2009 protests against the disputed election results. The country is on the bottom of most media and web freedoms lists – according to NGO Freedom house, it's even less free than China and Saudi Arabia.

The ayatollah is a pointedly reclusive figure who refrains from interviews and TV appearances, according to a biography, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran. But despite his reluctance to go TV, he seems to have found the photo-sexer-upper site an appropriate way to communicate with the faithful – of which there are so far 617 on Instagram. He previously used Twitpic, but was no doubt drawn by Instagram's allowing for much more attractive colour balances on the images.

Khamenei's engagement with the hipster photo blogging platform also seems to run counter to previous pronouncements that the Internet was a poisonous and corrupting influence. The Supreme Leader joined Twitter in April 2009, but when there was unrest in the Green movement last year, the regime banned Facebook.

The khamenei_ir Instagram account appears to be genuine because it is linked to the official @khamenei_ir Twitter.

However as most of the photos feature Khamenei, we presume it's an underling doing the social media rather than the great man himself.

We believe he is also paralysed in his right arm, following an assassination attempt in the 80s, which could make handling a smartphone tricky. ®

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