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Telegram Filtering 'Unprecedented' In Scope, Says Report

A nonpartisan nonprofit has accused Iran of attempting to disconnect people’s access to independent information online.

The report by the New York-based Center For Human Rights In Iran says the filtering of the Telegram messaging service in Iran shows that President Hassan Rouhani’s position against blocking the popular app has had no impact.

Rouhani has repeatedly stressed his opposition to the filtering of Telegram.

Condemning a legal verdict that banned the app used by more than 40 million people inside Iran, Rouhani tweeted, “The government is neither responsible for the recent blocking of the Telegram nor approves the decision.”

“The disruption to millions of people’s daily lives in Iran caused by the Iranian judiciary’s blocking of the popular Telegram messaging app on May 1, 2018, is costing jobs and income and fueling discontent in Iran at a time when unrest and grievances against the state are already at a high point,” CHRI said in its new 40-page report on the messaging app in Iran.

“The state’s faceoff with more than 40 million users of Telegram in Iran, regardless of the discontent created by the move, shows the Iranian leaders’ deep fear of the free flow of information and their reckless pursuit of censorship at any cost,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI’s executive director.

According to the report, “The ban is unprecedented in its scope and impact, as Iranians use Telegram for everything from personal communications to health care, education, and business. By 2018, it had become the principal means by which Iranians access the Internet.”

The report examines the ban in the context of the state’s massive, decade-long investment in the country’s national Internet infrastructure, “which has been designed to restrict Iranians to a digital world controlled and censored by the authorities.”

Furthermore, the report reveals the strong state consensus behind this goal, despite public statements by the Rouhani administration. It also discusses the full implications of the ban for Iranians’ digital rights and their social and economic rights.

“The Telegram ban is a huge step toward curbing people’s online freedom,” Ghaemi said. “The international community should speak out forcefully in defense of Iranians’ Internet freedom and basic rights.”

CHRI says the report, titled “Closing of the Gates: Implications of Iran’s Ban on the Telegram Messaging App“ is based on in-depth CHRI research conducted over the past five years on digital access and privacy issues in Iran and detailed interviews conducted in April-May shortly after the ban was implemented. The interviewees include tech experts, journalists, businesspeople, rights activists, factory workers, students, bankers, state employees, and artists, all within Iran.

CHRI listed its key findings, including, “The ban blocks the principal way Iranians access the Internet, in an attempt to cut them off from any information or communication not controlled and censored by the state.”

In another key point, the report maintains that Rouhani is losing ground. “The ban demonstrates the growing political irrelevance of President Rouhani, who publicly opposed the ban but took no effective action against it,” it noted.

Nevertheless, the report notes that many Iranians are still fighting the ban through using circumvention tools, while “those who do not have the resources or know-how for these tools will lose access.”

The report emphasized, “Rouhani’s Information and Communications Technology Ministry has tried to block access to the circumvention tools needed by Iranians to continue using Telegram, calling into question the president’s professed opposition to the ban.”

CHRI’s report also highlights the fact that those switching to domestic messaging apps will be using platforms that only deliver state-approved content and allow state surveillance of personal accounts.