As protests over Iran's faltering economy rapidly spread across the country, a channel on a mobile messaging app run by an exiled journalist helped fan the passions of some of those who took to the street. The Telegram app closed a channel run by Roohallah Zam after Iranian authorities complained that it was inciting violence, just hours before the government shut down the app entirely on Sunday,
The Washington Times, April 17, 2018 - Security officials in Russia and Iran, two of the world’s tightest controlled media markets, are scrambling to get control of the cloud-based messaging service Telegram, whose privacy and anti-hacking encryption features have made it the communications tool of choice in a growing number of repressive societies.
Telegram’s Russian-born founder and CEO, Pavel Durov, sounded a defiant note Tuesday after a Russian court issued a ban on the service when it refused to turn over its encryption keys to the state. Russian intelligence officials have denounced Telegram as a favorite of “international terrorist organizations,” and Russian internet companies by mid-Tuesday had blocked some 17 million web addresses on servers owned by Google and Amazon in an effort to suppress the app.
Mr. Durov, often called the “Russian Mark Zuckerberg,” posted on his own Telegram channel Tuesday that he wasn’t backing down as the government’s communications watchdog moved to enforce the court order.
“For us, this was an easy decision,” he wrote. “We promised our users 100 percent privacy and would rather cease to exist than violate this promise.”
The service has proved a technological headache for repressive regimes. Telegram’s 200 million users include huge numbers in China, where it is officially banned, and Iran, where a ban is set to go into place this month. Despite the clear hostility of the Kremlin and the Federal Security Service (FSB), Telegram has nearly 10 million users in Russia as well.
In Iran, where Telegram claims some 40 million users, the head of the Supreme Cyberspace Council warned this week that the app could be blocked “at any moment” and that a ban was being instituted on Iranian college campuses. President Hassan Rouhani has said the government is seeking to “free [Iran] from the dominant foreign messenger’s monopoly.”