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Iranian Official: Telegram’s Filtering Is Permanent

IRAN -- Iranians display their smart phones using the Telegram messenger application, December 1, 2015

An Iranian official defended the decision of the country’s judiciary to block the popular messaging application Telegram and said that the measure will be in effect permanently.

Abdussamad Khorramabadi, the chairman of the committee for Internet Crimes, a task force under the supervision of Iran’ judiciary said on Saturday May 12: “Do not pay attention to the rumors that say filtering of Telegram is temporarily. It is final and permanent.”

Iran's judiciary banned the popular Telegram messaging app on April 30, claiming it has been used to organize attacks and street protests. The ban triggered a wave of protests by the civil society and international organizations. According to some estimates, up to 40 million Iranians, or roughly half the total population, were using the app.

Khorramabadi’s message announcing the permanent nature of the ban was published on a domestic messaging app called Soroush, one of the apps that is promoted by the state media as alternative for Telegram. However, many Iranians are suspicious of the application, believing that Iran’s intelligence service and IRGC might be in control of the app, and therefore their privacy is not guaranteed.

In fact, the emojis of Soroush are very expressive. A woman wearing hijab is one of them. She holds signs with slogans such as “death to America” and “death to Zionism” indicating that the app is more than a technological tool.

Seven international organizations including Benetech and the Tor Project issued a statement, saying “In defense of the Iranian people’s basic human rights to freedom of expression and right to information, we the undersigned human rights organizations urge Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri to reexamine the ruling of the judiciary on the case brought by the Tehran Prosecutor’s office which determined Telegram a threat to Iran’s national security”. They added that the ruling about Telegram was in violation of international law and urged President Hassan Rouhani to put his words condemning the ban into action, and challenge the Judicial order.

Additionally, Seven Iranian lawyers have filed a lawsuit against the judicial official who has ordered the filtering of Telegram. “He exceeded his authority and deprived people from their individual rights mentioned in the constitution,” the lawyers wrote in their legal petition.

However, Khorramabadi, the chairman of the committee for Internet Crimes, accused the critics of Telegram ban of being ignorant about the legal procedures and said that judges have “vast authority” in Iran like in other countries.

President Rouhani has previously made indirect references to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as responsible for the decision to block Telegram.

“If decision about limiting and blocking people’s communication has been made at the highest level of the state, the people as the real owners of the country, should be informed about it”, Rouhani wrote in an Instagram post on May 4, indirectly demanding that Khamenei should take responsibility for the move.