Iran’s judiciary has ordered internet companies to block the Telegram messaging application’s newly released “Voice Calls” service, calling it a threat to national security, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.

An informed source said the order was issued in a letter to 20 internet service providers (ISP) on April 17, 2017.

Telegram, widely used in Iran, began rolling out the service on April 9, but it was blocked the next day by the country’s mobile phone operators. However, ISPs continued to allow clients to use the new service, CHRI’s investigations indicate.

In a statement announcing the launch of the free, voice call service, Telegram said it had implemented encrypted security measures to protect users.

Such measures would make it more difficult for Iran’s security forces to hack into citizens’ accounts.

After Telegram’s new service was blocked, users demanded an explanation on social media.

“Why aren’t judicial officials up-to-date? How can voice communications damage national security?” asked one person with the username, “Deli Por Khoon” (Angry Heart).

The internet is heavily restricted and censored in Iran, with hardliners in the government viewing any form of internet freedom as a threat to the sanctity of the Islamic Republic.

Speaking at a military rally in Mashhad, northeastern Iran on April 20, 2017, General Hassan Nejat, the acting head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization, said a “revolutionary government” should stop the country’s “continuing gravitation” towards the West before calling for Telegram to be banned.

“In a meeting with [President Hassan] Rouhani, we emphasized that allowing Telegram to initiate a voice calling service in Iran would prevent us from having any kind of control. But the president replied, ‘Why are you opposed to any kind of technology imported from the West? Telegram is a symbol of technology and modernism.’”

The Rouhani administration has repeatedly called for less governmental control over the internet, which is heavily restricted and censored in Iran. This has invited the scorn of not only the agencies that police cyberspace, but also hardline politicians seeking to unseat him in the country’s May 19 presidential election.

Rouhani reportedly resisted pressure from hardliners to shut down Telegram before Iran’s February 2016 elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts.

Barred from appearing in traditional media outlets, Reformists and other allies of the president heavily relied on Telegram to reach the electorate in last year’s elections.

The Iranian government’s latest attempt to counter Telegram’s popularity in the country violates Net Neutrality rules.

First presented by Columbia University Professor Tim Wu in 2003, Net Neutrality is the principle that “a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally.”

According to Article 26 of Iran’s Charter on Citizen’s Rights, signed by President Hassan Rouhani in December 2016, Iranians have a right to online freedom: “The government shall, according to the law, guarantee freedom of speech and expression, especially in the mass media, cyberspace, including in newspapers, magazines, books, cinemas, radio and television, social networks and the likes.”

On April 19, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov confirmed that Telegram voice calls had been blocked.

“In Iran, where Telegram has some 40 million active users, Telegram voice calls have been completely blocked by the country’s internet providers and mobile operators following an order from the judiciary,” he said.

Source: / iranhumanrights /