‘Safe haven for terrorists’: Iran bans Telegram messenger over national security concerns

‘Safe haven for terrorists’: Iran bans Telegram messenger over national security concerns
The Iranian judiciary has issued a “total ban” on Telegram following a request from the security services, which argued that the encrypted messaging app has become a “safe haven” for terrorist cells, according to local media.

“Considering various complaints against the Telegram social networking app by Iranian citizens and based on the demand of security organizations to confront the illegal activities of Telegram, the judiciary has banned its usage in Iran,” the decision said, as cited by Iranian media. “All Internet providers in Iran must take steps to block Telegram's website and app as of April 30.”

The judicial order envisages a “total ban” on the messaging app that would require the providers to ensure there is no way circumvent the restrictions, Mehr state news agency said.

Telegram “engaged in a number of illicit activities” in the territory of the Islamic Republic and “has become a safe haven for … the international terrorist groups, including Islamic State (IS, former ISIL),” the Mizan agency, which is linked to the Iranian judiciary, said, citing the court decision. It said the messenger app also became a safe haven for perpetrators of other crimes, ranging from incitement of hatred to spreading false information, conducting propaganda against Iran and distributing pornography.

The court also noted that the company operating the messenger repeatedly refused to cooperate with Iranian authorities in their investigations of various criminal activities, thus de-facto obstructing justice.

In September 2017, Iran already launched a criminal probe against the messenger's CEO, Pavel Durov, saying that the app provides “services to terrorist groups such as Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), creating a suitable platform for the activities of other groups and promoting and facilitating the perpetration of child pornography, human trafficking and narcotics trafficking.” At the time, Durov insisted that Telegram’s moderators had been cooperating and blocking around 1,000 channels, chats and bots with extremist or pornographic content in Iran on a daily basis.

The fresh ban on the messenger app comes after all Iranian government institutions were barred from using it. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also stopped using the app in mid-April. Iranian officials then announced that they would switch to domestic messaging applications, Soroush and Gap.

The Islamic Republic, which has had an estimated 40 million Telegram users, is not the first country to ban the messaging app. In mid-April, the Russian telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor also ordered internet providers to restrict access to all servers used by the Telegram. The move was taken after the company operating the messenger refused to comply with Russian law and hand over encryption keys to the Russian security services, arguing that was technically impossible.

READ MORE: Russian watchdog goes nuclear in attempts to enforce Telegram ban

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) repeatedly warned that the Telegram messenger was often used by terrorists. In March, the FSB officers arrested members of an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) “sleeper cell,” who were communicating through Telegram. According to the FSB, the app was also used by the terrorist cell that carried out the April 2017 attack in the Russian city of St. Petersburg.

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