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Rouhani Speaks Out Against A Possible Ban on Telegram App

Start telegram application icon on smartphone screen.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said on April 3 that Iran is not planning to ban popular messaging application Telegram.

Reacting to reports about the possible banning of the application, Rouhani explained in a meeting with high-ranking state officials that introducing homegrown messaging applications is aimed at putting an end to Telegram’s monopoly on messaging in Iran.

Rumors regarding a possible ban gained traction when Chairman of parliament’s national security and foreign relations committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi said on March 31 that in order to put an end to “Telegram’s destructive role,” a decision has been made “at the highest level” of the government to replace Telegram with a homegrown application.

Iranian officials have said that Telegram has 40 million users in Iran.

Rouhani addressed those who claim Telegram would be banned by saying, “Do not disappoint the people. Do not undermine work opportunities while there is an unemployment crisis in the country,” Khabar Online news website reported.

Recently Iranian MP Mohammad Reza Badamchi told reporters in Tehran that banning Telegram would eliminate 200,000 jobs and disrupt the financial situation of about half a million people.

A graphic by Shahrokh Heidari for Radio Farda depicting conservatives pulling the plug on Telegram voice calls.
A graphic by Shahrokh Heidari for Radio Farda depicting conservatives pulling the plug on Telegram voice calls.

Many e-commerce small businesses depend on the popular messaging app to sustain and expand their operations.

Khabar Online quoted Rouhani as saying “We should take pride in having safe and inexpensive Iranian applications that can solve people’s problems. But these applications should be developed with the aim of putting an end to monopoly in the area of messaging applications.”

Iranian authorities banned social media platforms Telegram and Instagram for a few days and police arrested several cyber activists as protests raged in the streets of more than 100 Iranian cities in late December and January, but the ban was lifted once the demonstrations lost their initial momentum.

Iranian media reported in early March that the Supreme Council for Cyberspace had met in Khamenei’s presence, adding that Khamenei was against lifting the temporary ban that was imposed on Telegram following widespread protests against political, social, and economic injustice.

Several members of Iranian parliament (Majles) have reacted to Boroujerdi’s comments on the same date criticizing him for the statement.

Meanwhile, on April 3, two MPs called for an opinion poll to determine the degree of people’s trust in homegrown applications. The two MPs said, “Banning Telegram would widen the gap between the people and state officials and would further deepen the people’s distrust of officials.”

MP Fatemeh Saeedi, a member of the Majles presidium who put forward the idea of a poll, told Iranian labor News Agency (ILNA) that filtering a foreign messaging application would not encourage people to use a homegrown application.

She said “based on the result of such a poll, we should rethink our policies rather than limiting people’s access to virtual networks,” adding that “banning Telegram would be a big mistake. We cannot simply ignore the realities of the world”

MP Tayebeh Siavashi also criticized Boroujerdi’s comments, adding that official authorities such as the Supreme National Security Council and the Supreme Council for Cyberspace should transparently verify Boroujerdi’s comments.

In spite of all the criticism, Boroujerdi again defended the idea of filtering Telegram and called the application “a threat to national security.”

Boroujerdi further claimed that a percentage of security threats against Iran originate on Telegram. He also said the United Kingdom, Germany, and Israel use the information stored on Telegram.

Boroujerdi further claimed that Telegram was used against Iran’s security during the widespread protests in December 2017 and January 2018.

The chairperson of the Majles committee to protect electronic businesses, Parvaneh Mafi warned about the social consequences of banning Telegram.

Mafi said that “banning Telegram would deepen the people’s distrust of the officials and endanger the country’s social capital, bringing it closer to a crisis,” Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported.

Mafi added: “The people do not trust homegrown messaging services, and this is part of their distrust of the country’s decision making system.”