Iran president criticizes blocking of Telegram messaging app
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Iran president criticizes blocking of Telegram messaging app

Rouhani says judiciary’s decision not backed by government, is ‘contrary to democracy’

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani gives a speech in the city of Tabriz in the northwestern East-Azerbaijan province on April 25, 2018, (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iran's president Hassan Rouhani gives a speech in the city of Tabriz in the northwestern East-Azerbaijan province on April 25, 2018, (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The Iranian government “does not approve” of the judiciary’s recent blockage of the Telegram messaging app, President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday.

“The recent blocking and filtering of Telegram was not implemented by the government and the government does not approve of it,” read a post on Rouhani’s Instagram account.

A Tehran judge on Monday ordered telecom companies to “totally block” Telegram after accusations that the app has allowed armed opposition groups to fuel unrest and has not cooperated with counter-terrorism efforts.

The move highlighted differences of opinion between the government of reformist Rouhani, elected to a second term in 2017, and ultra-conservatives who control the judiciary and security services.

Iranians display their smartphones using the Telegram messenger application on December 1, 2015. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Telegram is the Islamic republic’s most popular social network with some 40 million users, around half the population.

Iran’s telecom minister responded to the ban by saying it was “impossible to block citizen’s access to information.”

Social networks Facebook and Twitter are also blocked in the Islamic Republic but accessible via virtual private network (VPN) software which can circumvent internet blackouts.

The judiciary wants to prevent this in the case of Telegram.

Authorities temporarily banned the app during a wave of protests in dozens of Iranian cities early this year, saying it enabled foreign-based “counter-revolutionary” groups to stir tensions.

Rouhani’s Instagram post suggested that the judiciary’s decision was “contrary to democracy” because it would have ignored some “legal proceedings.”

“If at the very top of the system, a decision has been made to restrict or block communications between people… the people must be informed,” it read.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in mid-April that he would no longer use Telegram, shifting instead to domestic services.

Rouhani quickly followed suit and issued a directive banning the government and administration workers from using foreign messenger apps to communicate.

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