Iran president Hassan Rouhani has condemned the recent court decision to block Telegram, the country’s most popular messaging app. He said the decision that led to this blocking is not backed by the administration – a statement that may surely be the source of some conflict between Rouhani and the judiciary.
According to Al-Jazeera, this statement came after the Court in Tehran had released a court order for telecoms companies to block the said messaging app. This effectively leaves its 80-million Iranian user base stuck outside their favorite app.
Rouhani’s statement came in the form of an Instagram post last May 5, where he clarified the administration did not make the decision to block the popular messaging application. It can be recalled that the Iranian judiciary is appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader. It’s comprised of primarily conservatives.
The Court of Tehran move came courtesy of Iran’s Culture and Media court, where they had ordered various telecoms companies to block Telegram last April 30. This is based on accusations that anti-establishment protests and threats to national security may arise because of the application.
Rouhani’s Instagram statement said the blockage is the “opposite” of democracy. He said the “real owners” of Iran, which are the people, should have a say if a means of communication for the people will be restricted or blocked.
The blocking of Telegram appears to be a sensitive issue to other Iranians especially since the country has had a history of restricting means to information access and freedom of expression in the past. For instance, Twitter and Facebook are officially blocked in Iran, though can still be accessed by those who know how to navigate virtual private network (VPN) software.
Concerns over freedom of expression are also abound especially since the Telegram block is not the only move by Iranian conservatives to control the influence of the app. In fact, in early 2017, some reformist channel administrators were actually given prison sentences after they were arrested for coordinating efforts through the apps.
Interestingly, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced in mid-April that he would no longer rely on Telegram and instead use to Soroush, a homegrown application that appears to have features that are also in Telegram.
According to some state media websites, over 5-million citizens in Iran have already transitioned to Soroush. However, the app still had some things to fix – for instance, some users are having a hard time signing up to their accounts, and slow upload speeds for videos and photos.
Some appear to also show concern that the Iranian government may also be monitoring and accessing information and communication between its citizens. In fact, some suggest Soroush users better use burner phones so no contact lists and data can be potentially monitored by the government.
Unfortunately, this also poses quite a sore spot for Telegram, as the application has found itself in various legal battles with governments of other countries. It can be recalled that Telegram was also blocked in Russia recently after the company had refused to give its encryption keys to security services in the country. This is because handing over encryption keys would allow the Russian government to read all messages that are being sent and received on the platform, which violates its user privacy.
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