Six Lawyers in Iran File Petition Challenging Ban on Popular Telegram App
Six Iranian lawyers have presented a legal challenge to a recent judicial order blocking access in Iran to the widely used Telegram messaging and social media app, Telegram.
On May 7, 2018, attorneys Payam Derafshan, Arash Keykhosravi, Abouzar Nasrollahi, Saeed Dehghan, Javad Parsa and Mohammad Moghimi filed a petition at the Court for Government Employees in Tehran to overturn the judicial order, which was issued by Assistant Prosecutor Bijan Ghasemzadeh on May 1.
“The order not only violates the Criminal Procedures Regulations but also the Constitution,” Derafshan told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on May 7.
“The assistant prosecutor’s job is to collect evidence and present it to the court and then the judge makes a preliminary ruling and after that it will reach the appellate stage,” he added. “None of these steps have been followed. Moreover, the order violates Article 9 of the Constitution.”
According to Article 9, “… [N]o authority has the right to abrogate legitimate freedoms, not even by enacting laws and regulations for that purpose, under the pretext of preserving the independence and territorial integrity of the country.”
On May 4, three days after Iranian internet service providers, phone companies and the state-owned Telecommunications Infrastructure Company were ordered to block access to the app, President Hassan Rouhani indirectly suggested he disapproved of the decision, which he suggested was made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“This government has not and will not block any social media network or messenger,” said Rouhani in an Instagram post on May 4.
Referring to a well-known speech by Khamenei, he added: “If a decision has been made by the highest level of state to restrict or block people’s communications, the people, who are the real owners of this country, should be informed “#WeHaveNoSecrets, #TopDownRuling.”
In April 2015, Khamenei said “we have no secrets” while discussing Iran’s nuclear program. Iranians have widely interpreted Rouhani’s usage of the “WeHaveNoSecrets” hashtag as him indirectly stating that it was Khamenei who told the prosecutor to order the ban.
Derafshan told CHRI that he and his colleagues are prepared to provide legal support to Iranians who want to file a suit against the judicial official who imposed the ban and demand punishment based on Article 570 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code.
According to Article 570, “Any official and agent associated with state agencies and institutions who unlawfully strips members of the public of their personal freedom or deprives them from their rights provided in the IRI [Islamic Republic of Iran’s] Constitution, shall be sentenced to two months to three years’ imprisonment, in addition to dismissal from the service and prohibition of employment in state offices for one to five years.”
Derafshan added: “The assistant prosecutor argued that Telegram should be blocked because it has indecent content and things against national security. This is a very dangerous precedent because all those things could be said about the internet as a whole and the same official could order a ban on all of cyberspace.”
Derafshan also told CHRI that the ban does not comply with Article 114 of the Criminal Procedures Regulations Code, which states, “Prevention of services and activities in commercial, agricultural and industrial sectors is prohibited unless there is firm and reasonable evidence of criminal actions that are a threat to society’s health and security and public order. In such cases, the assistant prosecutor is required to inform the prosecutor of the reasons why the presumed criminal activities should be stopped. Such decisions can be challenged in court within five days after they are issued.”