The popular messaging app Telegram is seemingly drawing its last breaths in Iran as a number of reports indicate its likely imminent blocking.
Telegram has more than 40 million users in Iran and is widely believed to have played a significant role in the victory of Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani in the 2017 presidential elections.
On April 18, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Telegram channel announced it would have no further activity. It said, “In order to protect the national interest and to break the monopoly of the Telegram messenger,” the website khamanei.ir has stopped its activity on this messaging application.
The website said Khamenei will continue his presence in cyberspace through local messaging applications.
However, a large number of Iranians have lost their trust in local messaging applications as these internet users assume their activities are monitored by the security apparatus in Iran. To combat this assumption, Khamenei issued a fatwa April 9 that says, “The administration must guard and provide security for the people’s privacy and the country. Invading the privacy and security of the people is forbidden and against Islamic law and must not be undertaken.”
Following the fatwa, Soroush — a local messaging application — said April 16, “Following [Khamenei’s] speech, we have not responded to any security requests. But before [Khamenei’s speech], there were [security officials’] requests that we had not answered, and we were under pressure because we had not responded to them.”
Soon after the end of khamenei.ir’s presence on Telegram, First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri made similar declarations.
“Based on the country’s laws and regulations, no report will be published on [Jahangiri’s Telegram] channel from now on, and the publication of news about [Jahangiri’s] agenda will be published on local messaging [apps’ channels],” Jahangiri’s Telegram channel said April 18.
Moreover, Rouhani’s administration announced April 18 that all governmental departments and organizations must stop using Telegram as it is forbidden for them to do so.
Furthermore, Iran’s Deputy Prosecutor General Abdolsamad Khorramabadi said April 18: “Based on the approvals of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, no foreign messenger in Iran is allowed to operate unless it accepts five conditions: obtaining permission from the legal authorities; storing and processing Iranian users’ data inside the country; not giving the data to foreigners and preventing their access to the data; complying strictly with the rules and regulations related to the protection of users’ privacy; and [appointing] an official and authorized representative for managing its affairs [in Iran] and responding to queries from judicial authorities inside the country.”
The Supreme Council of Cyberspace is tasked with dealing and making policies about cyberspace in Iran. Most of the members of the council are appointed by Khamenei, although the president is the secretary of the council.
Meanwhile, conservative parliament member Abolfazl Aboutorabi said April 17, “According to [what I] heard, in the near future and possibly early in [the Iranian month of] Ordibehesht [beginning Aril 21], all foreign messaging [apps] and Telegram in the first instance will be blocked if [they] don’t accept the laws of our country.”