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Hardline Cleric: Government Wants To Blame Khamenei For Filtering Telegram

A graphic by Behnam Mohammadi for Radio Farda depicting attacks on social media app, Telegram, April 2017

A hardline Iranian cleric claims that President Rouhani’s government intends to filter the messaging app Telegram and put the blame on the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the supreme leader’s representative in the eastern city of Mashhad said in a speech on Friday April 6 that the government has concluded that “all problems of the country and moral corruption” result from Telegram and the app should be filtered. However, it wanted to make the leader responsible for the unpopular move, he claimed.

Almost half of the Iranian population (ca. 40 million) uses the app for personal and professional purposes.

Alamolhoda said that he had advocated filtering of all foreign messaging apps four years ago, but the government had attacked him at the time. Now, he says the Rouhani administration has reached the same conclusion.

Telegram and Instagram were temporarily blocked by the government during the recent anti-establishment protests that rocked the country in late December 2017 and early January this year, but the ban was lifted a few days later when the unrest subsided.

Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, a hardline pro-Khamenei cleric, the Friday prayer leader of Mashhad
Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, a hardline pro-Khamenei cleric, the Friday prayer leader of Mashhad

Based on some unconfirmed reports, members of Iran’s High Council for Cyberspace recently had a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in which he criticized the government’s decision to unblock Telegram after it had filtered it during the unrest.

The chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi who is close to Khamenei, announced recently that “at the highest level” of the country, it has been decided to replace Telegram with a domestic app “due to its destructive role”. By “highest level”, he probably refered to the supreme leader.

In a public speech in December last year, President Rouhani said that he was not supporting restrictions on accessing social media. Referring to his minister of telecommunication he said: “Our minister is here and he promises that his finger never will push the filtering button.”

On April 3 the president denied the rumors regarding the filtering of Telegram and said that such a move would make people unhappy and it would harm the job market.

Ayatollah Alamolhoda, however, claimed on Friday, that the government has changed its mind in this regard and will block the app in the future. The hardliner whose son-in-law was Rouhani’s rival in the last presidential election, is famous for radical statements and actions. He staunchly opposes concerts in his city and has been successful in canceling some events that had received permits by the government.

Despite his fierce opposition to social media, he himself has an official Telegram channel with more than 4600 members where his speeches and statements are being posted on a daily basis.

In a pole on his Telegram channel, he has asked his audience what they would do in case that the app is filtered. Ironically, 90% of the people who have answered the question said that they would still use Telegram with the help of an anti-filtering software.