Middle Eastern news agency Al Monitor is reporting that the Iranian government is considering blocking messaging app Telegram before the end of April. Iranians are estimated to make up between 20 and 25% of all users on the platform.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said that the decision had been “made at the highest levels” and the plan was to replace Telegram with “a domestic app”, likely the Iranian alternative Soroush.
Telegram is enormously popular in Iran with the number of users estimated at between 20 to 40 million every month. As well as a messaging service, it has become prominent as a micro-blogging platform in a country where both Twitter and Facebook are blocked.
It is also credited, or blamed, depending on your perspective, for its role in coordinating protests against the government. Boroujerdi alluded to this “destructive role” as the reason behind the proposed ban.
Hassan Firouzabadi, of the High Council for Cyberspace, even went so far as to say that the Telegram ICO would pose a threat to the country’s currency, the Rial. Telegram, he said, “has officially announced that it will be used as an economic platform” and any such development would “undermine the national currency”.
However, these comments have faced pushback in Iran, and not just from Telegram users. President Hassan Rouhani said that though home-grown alternatives should be encouraged and “cheaply priced Iranian messaging applications that can solve people’s needs and problems will surely make everyone proud”, the goal should not be “blocking access [to other apps]” but instead “the elimination of monopolies”.
According to a member of the Iranian parliament who was present for Rouhani’s remarks, the president advised that the government shouldn’t “make society anxious” with talk of bans, and that blocking Telegram would result in a loss of “200,000 job opportunities” due to the number of small businesses who use Telegram for ecommerce.
Parvaneh Mafi, chair of a committee to protect electronic businesses in the country, warned that any ban would only serve to “deepen the people’s distrust of the officials” and bring the country “closer to a crisis“.