Friday, 25 May, 2018

Iran blocks messaging app Telegram amid nationwide protests

Social media access restricted in Iran Telegram Shuts Down Channel Promoting Violence Against Iran's Government
Ben Pena | 12 January, 2018, 21:42

The executives of Telegram, the widely used messaging app in Iran, are heeding calls from Iranian government officials to better police its users as rallies in support and protest of the government sweep the country. Many Iranian ISPs are allegedly owned by or closely linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a military group with substantial influence across the country. The restrictions on Instagram and Telegram are imposed to maintain tranquillity, said, President Hassan Rouhani. Iran has been dealing with an increasing wave of anti-government protests that started a few days ago.

But also on Saturday, the Iranian telecommunications minister, Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, wrote a message on Twitter to Pavel Durov, the CEO and founder of Telegram. Eventually violence erupted in some of Iran's major cities, including capital Tehran, as citizens took to the streets, with some videos showing people reportedly chanting "death to the dictator", according to Reuters. Durov also noted that it was not clear whether this was a temporary or permanent decision.

Access to Telegram, which the government has accused of being used to foment violence during the protests, was cut in the early afternoon, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency and other media.

Telegram's actions here, in suspending a popular channel following a state request, have drawn accusations of collusion with the Iranian regime, even as the platform continues to anger the Iranian government by providing an ongoing outlet for uncensored political content.

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Durov also explained that the recently suspended Amad News channel had reached out to Telegram to apologize and pledged not to incite violence. After years of diplomatic pressure, U.S. companies face significant regulations on any technology exported to Iran, and it's often unclear how those rules extend to cloud services like AppEngine.

"Telegram channels are frequently used for organizing protests and for sharing political opinion", said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Iran is not the only country to clamp down on social media in this way. But other messaging apps give users options. Last year, app's founder Pavel Durov confirmed that the app had 40 million users in the country which is nearly 50% of Iran's entire population. It is used by millions of people globally and has been criticized by US and European officials for allowing extremist groups and terrorists to communicate secretly.

Instagram declined to respond to a BuzzFeed News question about whether it was actively aiding the Iranian government's censorship. "This suggests that workarounds for Iran's internet filters have become a way of life for many mobile and desktop internet users". The government enforced the block through a combination of centralized censorship by the country's Supreme Cybercouncil and local ISP interference to enforce more specific orders.

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