Iranian members of parliament pressured President Hassan Rouhani to permanently block critical messaging and communications app Telegram, used by tens of millions living in the Islamic Republic, on Tuesday.
“In recent months, the enemies of the Iranian nation made maximum use of foreign messaging apps to create insecurity and chaos in Iranian cities,” the MPs wrote in a letter read during a public session of the parliament January 16, according to Radio Farda.
The MPs reportedly also blamed the deadly attacks on Iran’s parliament by Islamic State (IS) militants last June on said apps in order to strengthen their request to shutter access to them for everyday Iranians.
Although apps like Telegram and Instagram were temporarily blocked by the regime at the onset of the December 28 protests and uprising, some were still able to access them by using anti-filtering software and proxies, both of which the MPs have asked the government to block.
Breitbart News reported that Iran’s judiciary had also blocked the voice calls feature from Telegram and Instagram Live ahead of the country’s May 19 presidential elections last year, in what was seen as a power move by Iran’s hardliners to control the outcome of the race.
However, Rouhani has reportedly refrained from blocking Telegram permanently, citing the fact that many Iranian businesses rely on the popular app.
Radio Farda reported that these MPs wished to replace international apps with domestic equivalents. The government has gone so far as to announce it will provide a $1.25 million loan at zero percent interest to companies developing domestic messaging apps.
However, Radio Farda reported that Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said, “Due to poisonous propaganda against domestic apps, people do not trust them and think their privacy will be violated or they will face problems.” Despite the veracity of this first part of his statement, Jahromi insists this belief “is not correct.”
On Friday, the Treasury Department announced that its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 14 individuals and entities in connection with serious human rights abuses and censorship in Iran.