Iran: Disrupting Telegram Harms Iranian Citizens

Washington

In response to reports that Iranian authorities have begun disrupting access to Telegram, the country’s most popular social media platform, with some 40 million users, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“Disrupting Telegram goes against President Hassan Rouhani’s promises to Iranians to create a freer society,” said Dokhi Fassihian, senior program manager for Middle East and North Africa programs. “Restricting access to secure social media platforms violates the fundamental rights of Iranians to freedom of expression, privacy, and access to information -- and is a significant disruption for those who depend on Telegram for business. The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and hardliners who have been pushing for the blocking of Telegram are not motivated by ‘national security,’ as they claim, but by a desire to monopolize control over media and public debate.”

Background:

On April 26, 2018, Iran’s Telecommunication Infrastructure Company announced the suspension of Telegram’s license to deploy a content delivery network (CDN) in the country. The move has affected Iranians ability to send and receive larger files on the platform, such as pictures and images. Supreme Leader Khamenei last week closed his Telegram channel and directed users to follow him on domestic messaging apps. Telegram’s refusal to censor channels, comply with data requests, and move its servers inside Iran led Iranian hardliners to call for the permanent blocking of the app, a move echoing recent action by Russia.

On April 13, a Russian court order blocked Telegram for refusing to make encrypted user data available to the Federal Security Service. Telegram took measures to circumvent the blocking by redirecting traffic to IP addresses linked to large data hosting providers. In the ensuing cat-and-mouse game, Russia’s regulator blocked over 18 million IP addresses, including many owned by Amazon and Google, and disrupted access to several well-known internet services in the country.

Iran is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2018, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2017, and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2017.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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