RFL/RE – Iranian President Hassan Rohani has strongly criticized a ban on the Telegram messaging service that was imposed by the country’s judiciary, saying his administration does not support it.
“The government wants a safe, but not controlled Internet,” Rohani wrote on his Instagram account late on May 4.
He said that the ban was neither ordered nor endorsed by the government.
“We want a free flow of information as well as the right for citizens of free choice,” he said, adding that the block was “the direct opposite to democracy.”
Iran’s Culture and Media Court on April 30 ordered the ban, asserting that Telegram had been used to organize actions threatening Iran’s security, including antiestablishment protests in December and January, and attacks on the parliament and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s shrine last June.
The move followed months of campaigning for the ban by members of the clergy and government hard-liners, and marked a defeat for the reformist president.
Telegram, in addition to serving as the main means of communication among this year’s antigovernment demonstrators, has been used extensively by Iran’s reformist politicians to communicate with their supporters.
While Rohani fought against the judicially imposed ban, Al-Jazeera reported on May 4 that many people in Iran are nevertheless starting to blame him for the unpopular move because of his election pledge to keep Telegram free.
About half of Iran’s roughly 80 million population has used Telegram to communicate as well as for business and entertainment.
Other online platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been blocked for years by the government. Telegram provided a means for Iranians to circumvent such media censorship because its phone-based platform allows users to view news, messages, and “channels” not necessarily approved by the state.
Telegram has also been popular in Russia, which recently imposed its own ban, a move that was protested by thousands of Russians earlier this week.
In his Instagram post on May 4, Rohani tooks pains to spell out that he had no involvement in the action against Telegram.
“No social network or messenger has been blocked by this administration,” he said, blaming the move on a “judicial decree” that he said circumvented his administration.
Rohani also noted that a similar move was made to block Telegram services during last year’s presidential election.
“The real owners of this country, i.e., the people, should be informed of the trend of affairs,” he said.
With reporting by dpa, IFP News, Al Jazeera, and Trend New Agency