Iran is likely to ban the popular messaging application Telegram by the end of the current Iranian month (April 20), the Iranian Parliament’s news agency, ICANA, quoted prominent MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi as saying on March 31.
Boroujerdi said the decision to ban Telegram and “replace it with a homegrown application” was made “at the highest level,” to curb its “destructive impact.”
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 in January.
Within an hour of reporting Boroujerdi’s statement, another MP, Ramezanali Sobhanifar, told reporters in Tehran, “There is still no definite date set for banning the application.” He further advised Iranian agencies “not to publish reports that could be harmful to people’s psychological security.”
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 over 100 Iranian cities in late December and January, but the ban was lifted once the demonstrations lost their initial momentum.
On January 16, 170 MPs wrote a letter to the heads of Iran’s executive, legislative, and judiciary bodies, blaming social media for igniting the unrest and demanding a replacement for Telegram with homegrown applications.
In the meantime, authorities denied reports about the imminent banning of Telegram.
President Hassan Rouhani, who had promised that Telegram and other social media would not be banned, appears to have changed his mind. In February, Rouhani characterized cyberspace as “a major player in domestic and international politics.” He said that “monopoly in cyberspace would be meaningless, and a messaging service’s exclusive control of this space is against our security,” adding, “Iranian-made messaging applications should be developed and used by the people.”
A ban on Telegram now seems more likely than ever. According to Boroujerdi, “Banning Telegram is essential for the Islamic Republic’s national security.” Based on academic research in Iran, Telegram was instrumental in Rouhani’s victory in the 2017 election.
Nevertheless, some MPs insist Telegram cannot be replaced with a homegrown application. MPs including Massoud Pezeshkian said in late
March that Iranians do not trust homegrown applications, fearing government surveillance and a breach of their privacy.
Social media users widely protested against the plans to replace foreign applications like Telegram with homegrown versions like iGap and Soroush.
Telegram is one of the most popular messaging applications in Iran and has more than 40 million users, and between 10,000 and 15,000 businesses actively use it for marketing and other purposes, according to official statistics.
According to Culture Minister Abbas Salehi, some 80 percent of Persian content on the Internet is published via 11,000 Telegram channels.