Once more, conservatives in Iran are ramping up pressure on President Hassan Rouhani’s government to block the messaging app Telegram.
In an Op-Ed published on the website KhabarOnline, Hassan Firouzabadi, head of Iran’s High Council for Cyberspace, wrote that it was not in Iran’s interest to continue to allow access to Telegram inside the country.
"The fact that a network can connect all citizens of a country without having any kind of hardware, software, or platform inside of this country is not a small achievement,” Firouzabadi wrote, warning “domestic radicals” have contributed to Telegram’s popularity in Iran by blocking Twitter and Facebook.
Both applications are still popular among Iranians, who use proxies to circumvent the blockage.
Firouzabadi said Telegram should be added to the list of blocked sites for its biased content and provoking dissent and chaos in Iran.
Telegram has close to 200 million users worldwide, nearly 40 million of whom are Iranians, which is equivalent to half Iran’s population. Iranians use the messaging app for communicating with friends and getting news. Thousands of Iranian business use also the app to advertise their goods and services.
Media outlets, including foreign-based radio and TV stations such as Radio Farda, have channels on the app through which they reach audiences inside Iran despite a severe Internet censorship regime.
In his op-ed, Firouzabadi called Telegram’s plan to create a cryptocurrency a conspiracy and questioned the company’s intentions in Iran.
“Journalists should ask why Telegram wants to offer a cryptocurrency when it must know it will only have serious customers in Iran,” he said, adding that financial restrictions from international sanctions and severe devaluation of the national currency against the U.S. dollar would make such a crypto currency attractive for Iranians, but to the country’s detriment, as it would help move that wealth out of Iran.
Firouzabadi admitted that there is no domestic equivalent of Telegram that could provide the same service to the app’s millions of users.
Telegram was 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 few days later when the unrest subsided.
Conservatives believe social media, and particularly Telegram, play a crucial role in fomenting dissatisfaction with the regime and threaten its existence.
Hamideh Zarabadi, a member of Iranian parliament said March 17 that the High Council for Cyberspace has decided to block Telegram by the end of the next Persian year, which starts on March 21.
Based on some unconfirmed reports, members of the council recently had a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which he criticized the government’s decision to unblock Telegram when protests subsided earlier this year.