Senior Official: Telegram App Could Be Blocked “At Any Moment”
Education Ministry Bans Telegram on Campuses
On the same day the secretary of Iran’s Supreme Cyberspace Council told a radio program that the widely used Telegram app could be blocked “at any moment,” the Education Ministry banned the app on campuses nationwide.
“I use Telegram as well as Instagram but based on the commitment I have to domestic messengers [apps made/maintained in Iran], I use them as well,” Abolhassan Firouzabadi told the Zarrebin (Magnifier) radio program on April 16, 2018.
“Since early January 2018 extensive measures have been taken on orders of the president,” he added. “He [President Hassan Rouhani] emphasized that the country should be freed from the dominant foreign messenger’s [Telegram’s] monopoly.”
In recent weeks several Iranian officials have suggested Telegram, used by 40 million people in Iran according to the company, could soon be blocked. But Firouzabadi’s comment marks the first time a senior official in charge of internet policy in Iran has publicly spoken on the issue.
On April 16, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for National Security Affairs, backed away from his previous comment that a decision had been made “at the highest level” to ban Telegram by April 20.
“Telegram’s fate is in the hands of the government and filtering [banning] Telegram is not the primary topic,” Boroujerdi said.
The internet is heavily censored and monitored in Iran with millions of websites blocked along with widely used American-owned apps such as Facebook and Twitter. Telegram, which is based in Dubai and owned by Russian CEO Pavel Durov, had survived despite years of Iranian officials trying to convince the company to move its servers to Iran.
Firouzabadi, the secretary of the SCC—the highest internet policy decision-making body in Iran—also told the radio program that those who would lose business income if the app was blocked could go on unemployment insurance.
“The people whose businesses get adversely affected by migrating from foreign messengers to domestic ones will receive unemployment insurance,” he told the radio program without specifying which organization would provide these benefits or the registration requirements.
In a meeting with economy officials on January 8, 2018—during the two-week ban on Telegram amid nationwide protests in Iran—President Rouhani did not mention the app by name but said the block on “one of the social media networks” had caused 100,000 Iranians to lose their jobs.
In line with continuing attempts by the Iranian government to encourage citizens to use domestic messaging apps, the Ministry of Education also issued a directive on April 16 banning the use of foreign-made messaging apps at public schools throughout the country.
The directive specifically named Instagram, Line, Tango, Telegram and WhatsApp, adding: “The use of foreign social media networks and messaging apps to share administrative information, conduct public relations, send news, advertise … or give homework to students at state, private or non-profit schools is prohibited and violators will be prosecuted.”