Since the beginning of 2018, there has been mixed news on the intention of the Iranian regime to block the Telegram Messenger until an Iranian official announced the regime would block this application by the end of April 2018.
At the beginning of this month, the Chairman of the Supreme National Security Council in the Iranian parliament, Alaeddin Boroujerdi announced that the Telegram Messenger will be blocked in Iran for security measures and it will be replaced by other local social media applications. To justify this procedure, Boroujerdi said, “The Iranian people are exchanging unsafe information on this application that is monitored by Britain and Israel.” At the end of his talk to a local radio station, Boroujerdi called on Iranians to trust the local social media applications as they would protect their personal information.
» Soroush Application: An Alternative
For a while, the Iranian government presented a local application called, “Soroush” to be an alternative for the Telegram Messenger. So far, about three million people use this application while Telegram users amount to forty million people in Iran. These numbers provoked Hussein Wahid, a communication and information technology engineer to say about Soroush, “I think the application users are only governmental officials. No Iranian might trust a local application because it will definitely be monitored,” knowing that this application was hacked several days ago. Earlier, the Iranian member of parliament, Abdulkarim Hassan Zadeh asserted that Iranians do not trust local applications when he said, “There are no governmental security measures to comfort Iranians and make them trust this local application.”
» Why Telegram in Particular?
Since the rise of social media in Iran and its role in the Green Movement 2009 (the riots which followed Ahmadinejad’s victory for a second presidential term in 2009), the Iranian regime became aware of its threat provoking it to block sites and to take control of many sites by all means.
After 2009, the Iranian authorities blocked most foreign news sites and social media applications (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Viber). In response, Iranians used various programs to access these sites and applications, but as a result of the Iranian regime decreasing the speed of the internet, these programs became hard to use and were time-consuming. In 2013, Telegram, a Russian messaging application which does require high-speed internet, attracted Iranian’s and became the most popular one in Iran by which users could make accounts to post news, videos, and other information. Telegram upset the Iranian regime and it contacted its head office as it wanted the servers of its Iranian users to be moved into Iran. This would have allowed the Iranian regime to monitor Iranian users easily under the pretext of securing the Iranian people’s data, but the request was declined by the head office. In response, the Iranian conservatives called for the blocking of this application- especially after it played an important role in the Iranian 2016 presidential elections when the Reformers used Telegram for supporting President Hassan Rouhani. Surprisingly, the Conservatives even though they called for blocking Telegram, they recognized its importance and its popularity among Iranians and even used it to promote their candidate for the 2016 presidential elections, Ibrahim Raisi. At the beginning of 2018, demonstrations spread in most Iranian cities and protestors used Telegram to post news and the places of demonstrations. This angered the Iranian regime as it was concerned the 2009 events would be replicated as some activists had recorded Iranian security forces shooting at demonstrators and posted the footage on YouTube. Because of this fear, the Iranian regime cut the internet connection in several Iranian cities and blocked applications such as Telegram and Instagram on most days of the demonstrations. Indeed, the blackout of these applications was not lifted until after the end of the demonstrations. Afterward, the talk about a permanent blackout of these applications spread all over the country while the attempts of the Iranian Minister of Communications to prevent a possible blackout went to the sideway.
» Rouhani’s Oath
During his presidential campaign in 2013, Rouhani promised the Iranian people a free flow of information and internet use, however, during the 2018 demonstrations Rouhani failed to ensure this free flow of information but the Iranian people knew the blackout on social-media applications was not his decision. In Rouhani’s favour a communiqué was issued by an official source in the Iranian Ministry of Communications saying that his government had attempted but achieved little success in trying to postpone the blackout on Telegram and other applications. In addition, there were some positive indications concerning Rouhani’s government’s control over the Internet despite pressure from the conservative current. In Iran, the Iranian High Council of Cyberspace consisting of thirteen members most of whom belong to the Conservative Current and the Judicial Authority were responsible for taking the decision in relation to the blackout. Nevertheless, the final word concerning this issue was in the hand of Iran’s Supreme Leader.
» Secure Telegram Messenger in Iran
During the recent demonstrations, the Iranian Minister of Communications directed a tweet to Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram asking him to block some Persian channels on the application under the pretext that they promote violence, referring to Amid News. Durov responded positively to the minister’s request and blocked the channel, which provoked specialists in the communications industry to respond, “This practice has made us suspect the security of this application as it monitors information and blocks channels.” Durov justified his action by saying that the channel had posted information against the policies of the application. He added that if the application had limited the freedom of channels, he would have been responded positively to the calls of the Iranian regime asking him to block many other channels. Last year, the Iranian regime broadcasted some news saying, “The Administration of Telegram Messenger has agreed to move the information servers of the application into Iran.” On the other hand, the Iranian journalist, Reza Shirazi, who was accused of technology issues in Iran, denied the regime’s statement saying, “These are just rumors to spread fear and worry among the Iranian users of this application. Nevertheless, this does not deny the possibility that the application might have been penetrated by the Iranian regime, which is evident when many journalists found out that their accounts on Telegram Messenger were monitored by the Iranian regime during the last presidential elections.” Despite the above, the Telegram Messenger is still the most important application for Iranian people and a means of livelihood for many of them. About 10-15 thousand Iranians market their products on this application and it supports about 180 thousand Iranian families.