State Filtering Body Refuses to Block the Service

An official Iranian state censorship body has resisted calls by hardliners in Iran to block the Telegram messaging service, the most popular social media application in Iran. 

The Working Group to Determine Instances of Criminal Content on the Internet, Iran’s principal body charged with Internet filtering, had tried to have Telegram blocked, and in this they were supported by hardliners in Parliament, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Judiciary, conservative Iranian media outlets, and influential Friday prayer leaders. But they were not able to amass the votes in the body needed to block the widely used application.

Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, Secretary of the Working Group, said on January 5, 2016, that a proposal to ban the use of the Telegram messaging network in Iran did not get the required votes. However, he left the door open for the Judiciary to block the application in the future if it deemed necessary.

“The Committee’s decision does not mean that the Judiciary will avoid its responsibility in taking action against Telegram to stop the distribution of criminal content in cyberspace,” he said.

With 20 million accounts, Telegram is the leading social media application in Iran, according to a survey published by the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA) on December 31, 2015.

The application is popular not just among ordinary Iranians but also widely used by state officials to make announcements to the general public—including, oddly, many hardline officials in Iran’s security and military agencies who have simultaneously called for Telegram’s blocking.

A source with knowledge about social media usage in Iran told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that more than 50 percent of Iran’s weekly Internet traffic is on Telegram, compared to 12 percent on Instagram.

Telegram’s popularity has alarmed hardline officials and religious leaders who want to control and track its content or to block it altogether. In the past year, access to the application has been frequently interrupted in Iran while state telecommunication officials tried unsuccessfully to obtain Telegram’s cooperation in sharing information about Iranian account holders

Last October Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned that enemies were using Telegram to spread indecent and criminal content.