Iran Denies Restricting Access to Telegram over “Immoral” Stickers

Internet control in Iran has allegedly reached new levels, as the access to the encrypted communication app Telegram has been severely restricted over what Iranian officials called “immoral” stickers embedded in the app. “Stickers” are small illustrations, similar to emoticons, used in messages to express moods.

On June 29, Telegram posted a statement on Twitter, admitting that the app has been facing traffic problems in Iran, stirring a wave of accusations against the government’s censorship:

Telegram messenger service is widely used as an encrypted communication method, commonly used as a tool to circumvent governmental surveillance.

Earlier this year, Iranian Communications and Technology Minister Mahmoud Vaezi declared that messenger apps, such as WhatsApp, Viber, Tango and Wechat, have been “intelligently filtered“, along with the popular photo sharing network Instagram.

Reporters Without Borders quoted an announcement made by Vaezi on May 4:

“The second phase of Intelligent Filtering has begun with the help of a foreign company and the use of the know-how of our country’s researchers. Intelligent Filtering is officially destined to protect society from immoral harm from certain websites and social networks”

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran quoted a statement made by Vaezi on June 14:

“[The government had] complete surveillance over social media… According to the law we will place limits on networks that use stickers or content that allow insults against government officials or promote immoral issues”

However, on June 30, following the criticism over the traffic restriction on Telegram, Vaezi denied the allegations of governmental censorship and released to Iran’s Tasnim news agency a different statement:

“Unfortunately there are some rumors in social networks about restriction or filtration of Telegram by the ministry of telecommunications. These are just rumors and are not true at all.

My colleagues and I at the ministry of telecommunications have no plan to restrict social networks and are aware of the application of such networks in today’s life. Meanwhile, I urge users to avoid spreading such reports in social networks unless they are confident about correctness of the reports”

Pavel Durov, Founder of Telegram Messenger, later joined Vaezi’s statement and also denied the allegations of censorship, by saying to Motherboard that the traffic problems in Iran were probably not caused by censorship:

“The reason to limit Telegram’s traffic have more to do with economy than politics. At first we thought Telegram might be filtered in Iran for censorship reasons, but it seems it is not the case”

According to the Freedom House’s report for the year 2014, Iran is marked as “not free” and ranked extremely low with regard to freedom of the net. The Iranian authorities ban social media apps and websites, block access to political and social content and extremely restrict press freedom.

Blocked social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are regarded by the Iranian regime as “un-Islamic, immoral or detrimental to the Islamic establishment”. However, many Iranians find ways to circumvent the restrictions.

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