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Iran's Rouhani Strongly Criticizes Court Block On Telegram Service

Iranian President Hassan Rohani
Iranian President Hassan Rohani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has strongly criticized a ban on the Telegram messaging service that was imposed by the country's judiciary, saying his administration does not support it.

"The government wants a safe, but not controlled internet," Rouhani wrote on his Instagram account late on May 4.

He said that the ban was neither ordered nor endorsed by the government.

"We want a free flow of information as well as the right for citizens of free choice," he said, adding that the block is "the direct opposite to democracy."

Iran's Culture and Media Court on April 30 ordered the ban, asserting that Telegram had been used to organize actions threatening Iran's security, including anti-establishment protests in December and January, and attacks on the parliament and Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini's shrine last June.

The move followed months of campaigning for the ban by members of the clergy and government hardliners, and marked a defeat for the reformist president.

Telegram, in addition to serving as the main means of communication among this year's anti-government demonstrators, has been used extensively by Iran's reformist politicians to communicate with their supporters.

While Rohani fought against the judicially imposed ban, Al Jazeera reported on May 4 that many people in Iran nevertheless are starting to blame him for the unpopular move because of his election pledge to keep Telegram free.

About half of Iran's roughly 80 million population has used Telegram to communicate as well as for business and entertainment.

Other online platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been blocked for years by the government. Telegram provided a means for Iranians to circumvent such media censorship because its phone-based platform allows users to view news, messages, and "channels" not necessarily approved by the state.

Telegram has also been popular in Russia, which also recently imposed a ban protested by thousands of Russians this week.

In his Instagram post on May 4, Rouhani tooks pains to spell out that he had no involvement in the action against Telegram.

"No social network or messenger has been blocked by this administration," he said, blaming the move on a "judicial decree" that he said circumvented his administration.

Rouhani also noted that a similar move was made to block Telegram services during last year's presidential election.

“The real owners of this country, i.e., the people, should be informed of the trend of affairs,” he said.

Based on reporting by dpa, IFP News, Al Jazeera, and Trend New Agency