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Demonstrations in Iran fanned by messaging app.

Byline: Jon Gambrell Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- As protests over Iran's faltering economy rapidly spread across the country, a channel on a mobile messaging app run by an exiled journalist helped fan the passions of some of those who took to the street.

The Telegram app closed a channel run by Roohallah Zam after Iranian authorities complained that it was inciting violence, just hours before the government shut down the app entirely Sunday. Zam meanwhile launched new channels to spread messages about upcoming protests and share videos from demonstrations.

Zam, who has said he fled Iran after being falsely accused of working with foreign intelligence services, denied inciting violence on Telegram.

What happens next could influence the future course of the largest protests Iran has seen since 2009.

It's hard to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of its 80 million people, an estimated 40 million use the free app created by Russian national Pavel Durov. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users.

While authorities ban social media websites like Facebook and Twitter and censor others, Telegram users can say nearly anything. In the last presidential election, the app played a big role in motivating turnout and spreading political screeds.

Telegram touts itself as being highly encrypted and allows users to set their messages to "self-destruct" after a certain period, making it a favorite among activists and others concerned about their privacy. That too has made it a worry of Iranian authorities.

Zam has used the app to share news and information published by his AmadNews website. Posts included times and locations for protests, as well as videos of demonstrators shouting inflammatory chants, including those targeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate in Iran's clerically overseen government.

Officials have targeted Telegram in recent remarks, with prosecutors going as far as filing criminal charges against Durov.

Durov wrote on Twitter that Iran blocked the app "for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down ... peacefully protesting channels." Iranian state television later quoted an anonymous official as saying the app would be temporarily limited as a safety measure.

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Title Annotation:World_
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Words:370
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