Iran’s President Speaks out Against a Possible Ban on Telegram, Hints At Creating Local Replacement

Despite the rumors, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said today that the country is not planning to ban the popular encrypted messaging platform Telegram. Rouhani explained in a meeting with high-ranking state officials that, instead, Iran will be introducing homegrown messaging applications that are aimed at putting an end to Telegram’s monopoly on messaging in the country.

In reaction to the reports on the matter, Rouhani said that “Having strong, secure and cheaply priced Iranian messaging applications that can solve people’s needs and problems will surely make everyone proud.” However, he added with reference to the blocking of Telegram:

“The goal of creating and enhancing Iranian software and messaging apps should not be blocking access [to other apps], but [the goal] should be the elimination of monopolies.”

Rumors regarding a possible ban gained traction when the Chairman of parliament’s national security and foreign relations committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said on March 31st that in order to put an end to “Telegram’s destructive role,” a decision has been made “at the highest level” of the government to replace Telegram with a homegrown application.”

The news comes less than a week after Telegram completed its second initial coin offering (ICO) — the world’s largest — bringing the total amount raised to $1.7 billion. The ICO was held to help establish the Telegram Open Network (TON), a “fast, scalable, and user-friendly” cryptocurrency and blockchain platform — something which Iran is apparently quite worried about.

Telegram Ban

Recently, Iranian MP Mohammad Reza Badamchi told reporters in Tehran that banning Telegram would eliminate 200,000 jobs and disrupt the financial situation of about half a million people. The app currently has more than 40 million users in the country, and many e-commerce small businesses depend on it to sustain and expand their operations.

The ban is a sensitive subject Iran, a country that doesn’t have the greatest record with regards to human rights. Iranian authorities banned both Telegram and Instagram for a few days and police arrested several cyber activists as protests raged in the streets of more than 100 Iranian cities in late December and January. The ban was lifted once the demonstrations lost their initial momentum.

Homegrown Messaging App

Yesterday, two MPs called for an opinion poll to determine the degree of people’s trust in homegrown applications. The two MPs said:

“Banning Telegram would widen the gap between the people and state officials and would further deepen the people’s distrust of officials.”

MP Fatemeh Saeedi, a member of the Majles committee to protect electronic businesses, who put forward the idea of a poll, told Iranian Labor News Agency that filtering a foreign messaging application would not encourage people to use a homegrown application.

She said: “based on the result of such a poll, we should rethink our policies rather than limiting people’s access to virtual networks,” adding that “banning Telegram would be a big mistake. We cannot simply ignore the realities of the world”

Furhter, the chairperson of the Majles committee, Parvaneh Mafi, warned about the social consequences of banning Telegram. Mafi said that “banning Telegram would deepen the people’s distrust of the officials and endanger the country’s social capital, bringing it closer to a crisis,” Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported.

Mafi added: “The people do not trust homegrown messaging services, and this is part of their distrust of the country’s decision making system.”

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