Iran Telegram Ban Strangles Country Amid Struggling Economy, Protests
State Uses Its Expanded Tech Capacity to Advance Censorship, Disregards Costs
June 19, 2018— The disruption to millions of people’s daily lives in Iran caused by the Iranian Judiciary’s blocking of the popular Telegram messaging app on May 1, 2018, is costing jobs and income and fueling discontent in Iran at a time when unrest and grievances against the state are already at a high point.
In a new, 40-page report by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) released today, Closing of the Gates: Implications of Iran’s Ban on theTelegram Messaging App, dozens of Iranians across the political spectrum discuss the costs of the ban on the messaging app that has some 40 million active users in Iran and is used in all walks of life.
“The state’s faceoff with more than 40 million users of Telegram in Iran, regardless of the discontent created by the move, shows the Iranian leaders’ deep fear of the free flow of information and their reckless pursuit of censorship at any cost,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI’s executive director.
The ban is unprecedented in its scope and impact, as Iranians use Telegram for everything from personal communications to healthcare, education and business. By 2018, it had become the principal means by which Iranians access the internet.
The report examines the ban in the context of the state’s massive, decade-long investment in the country’s national internet infrastructure, which has been designed to restrict Iranians to a digital world controlled and censored by the authorities. The report reveals the strong state consensus behind this goal, despite public statements by the Rouhani administration. It also discusses the full implications of the ban for Iranians’ digital rights and their social and economic rights.
Download the report here
“The state is hitting the economy at a time when the economy cannot take a hit,” said Ghaemi. “The Telegram ban shows that control and censorship are more important to the authorities than jobs and the well-being of the Iranian people.”
- The ban blocks the principal way Iranians access the internet, in an attempt to cut them off from any information or communication not controlled and censored by the state.
- The ban demonstrates the growing political irrelevance of President Rouhani, who publicly opposed the ban but took no effective action against it.
- Many Iranians will continue to access the app through circumvention tools, but those who do not have the resources or know-how for these tools will lose access.
- Those switching to domestic messaging apps will be using platforms that only deliver state-approved content and allow state surveillance of personal accounts.
- Rouhani’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology has tried to block access to the circumvention tools needed by Iranians to continue using Telegram, calling into question the president’s professed opposition to the ban.
- The judicial ban indicates the growing centralization of power over internet policy in Iran’s most hardline state bodies.
- The ban will directly erode people’s economic and social rights; Telegram has become deeply integrated into the daily business of the country and its ban will impact employment and incomes.
- Financial losses from the ban will come at a time when the economy is already under strain due to mismanagement, sanctions, low investment and the withdrawal of the US from the Iranian nuclear deal. More unrest could trigger a severe crackdown and further erosion of civil and political liberties.
Closing of the Gates: Implications of Iran’s Ban on the Telegram Messaging App is based on in-depth CHRI research conducted over the last five years on digital access and privacy issues in Iran and detailed interviews conducted in April-May 2018 shortly after the ban was implemented with a diverse range of Iranians inside the Islamic Republic. The interviewees include tech experts, journalists, business people, right activists, factory workers, students, bankers, state employees and artists.
“The Telegram ban is a huge step toward curbing people’s online freedom,” said Ghaemi. “The international community should speak out forcefully in defense of Iranians’ internet freedom and basic rights.”
Download the report here