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Iran: Telegram ban lifted only if 'terrorist' content removed

Anti-regime protests have engulfed Iran and its embassies around the world [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 January, 2018

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As anti-government protests continue to engulf Iran, the government has blocked social media apps in the hopes of curbing the unrest.
Telegram would only be unblocked if it removed "terrorist" content, said the Iranian telecoms minister on Wednesday, after the encrypted messaging app was blocked amid anti-government protests that swept the country this week.

Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi told state television: "I had mail exchanges with the head of Telegram and I told him that the continuation of Telegram's activities is conditioned on the suppression of terrorist content.

"The organs of power welcome criticism on social media... but in the current climate, in particular on Telegram, there is propaganda for violent and terrorist actions," he added.

Protests began on Thursday in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, with anti-government rallies quickly spreading to other cities including Tehran, Khorramabad, Karaj and Sabzevar.

Thousands are thought to have taken part in the protests, making them the biggest show of public defiance since 2009, when Iranians - as part of the newly-formed Green Movement - took to the streets to denounce alleged rigged presidential elections by then-President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

The protests this time were initially centred around rising living costs, but quickly became focused against the regime in general with chants of "Death to the dictator".

In an attempt to shut down protests and manage the unrest, Iran's government blocked access to the encrypted Telegram messaging app and the photo-sharing app Instagram, which now join Facebook and Twitter in being banned.

"Iranian authorities are blocking access to Telegram for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down … peacefully protesting channels," Pavel Durov, Telegram CEO, tweeted.

More than 25 million Iranians use Telegram daily in a country where 41 million Iranians have smartphones, with its inbuilt encryption enabling it to become one of their main source of news and a way to bypass Iran's highly restrictive media environment.

American president Donald Trump tweeted Iran "has now closed down the Internet so that peaceful demonstrators cannot communicate. Not good!"

Trump has been vocal on Twitter about the protests in Iran since they erupted last week.

"The world is watching!" he said, reposting clips of his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September.

"Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever, and the day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice," he tweeted, quoting from the speech.

On Monday, Trump said it is "time for change" in Iran and that the country's people are "hungry" for freedom.

"The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!"

Jahromi demanded on Sunday that Telegram remove a channel called Amadnews that was allegedly calling for an "armed uprising." Amadnews, which has nearly 1.4 million followers was removed by Telegram, but they refused to remove others that had not advocated violence.

Restrictions would be lifted in "several days" if calm was restored on the streets of Iran added Jahromi. 

total of 21 people have so far died since protests began and some 450 have been arrested since Saturday.

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