Unblocking Telegram in Iran subject to removal of pro-terrorism channels

Unblocking Telegram in Iran subject to removal of pro-terrorism channels

Following the social unrest across Iran, starting on Thursday, the government started blocking access to social networks and messaging apps including Telegram and Instagram, while some controls were also put on Iranians' access to the Internet.

It was not surprising, then, that on the fourth day of the protests, the Iranian authorities "temporarily" blocked Telegram, as well as the popular social media platform Instagram.

Of these newer services, the most popular in Iran is Telegram, an instant messaging service that offers encrypted secret chats and channels, where people discuss news and current events. According to Telegram founder Pavel Durov, the government also requested suspensions for a number of other channels that had not violated the policy on violence.

Confusion remains around the true extent of the clampdown as some students in the country have reported uninterrupted access on desktop computers, including messaging service Telegram. Durov said in a blog post that the company "would rather get blocked in a country by its authorities than limit peaceful expression of alternative opinions". Iranian authorities are wary of social media, which has fuelled prior protests, and previous year declared their intent to eventually restrict the country's internet users to a national intranet.

The decision brought sharp criticism from Iranian cyber-activists, who described Telegram's actions as "capitulation" to state censorship.

Zam, who has said he fled Iran after being falsely accused of working with foreign intelligence services, denied inciting violence on Telegram. The protests began December 29 in the southeastern city of Mashad, governed by hard-line conservative clerics who oppose the Rouhani government and even Ayatollah Khamenei as too reformist.

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According to the BBC, restrictions to access Telegram and Instagram apps were imposed to 'maintain tranquillity'.

Iranian-American Middle East analyst Holly Dagres said access to VPNs, which are easily bought at shops, aren't necessarily safe from the government's gaze.

Durov, in turn, responded to Azari Jahromi's tweet: "Calls for violence are prohibited by the Telegram rules".

What happens next could influence the future course of the largest protests Iran has seen since 2009. "Iranians use it to sell clothes or find doctors, she added".

During Hong Kong's 2014 Umbrella Revolution, where thousands of people demonstrated for universal suffrage over 79 days, Beijing moved swiftly to quash all reports of dissent from the former British colony.

Telegram also touts its end-to-end encryption, meaning every device with Telegram installed has its own encryption keys, which in theory would prevent a government that intercepted Telegram messages from being able to read them. It's very hard for social media platforms and messaging apps to operate under tight regulations in Iran.

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