Iranian authorities, scrambling to contain the biggest nationwide protests since 2009, have blocked social media apps and said anyone who disrupts public order will pay the price, after a turbulent night of growing anti-establishment demonstrations left at least two dead.
People took to the streets on Saturday night for a third evening of apparently spontaneous protests. The demonstrations began over economic grievances but have since taken on a political dimension, with unprecedented calls for the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down.
Telegram’s CEO, Pavel Durov, earlier said it had blocked access to the popular Amadnews channel after, he said, it had “started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktails against police”.
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It’s hard to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of its 80m population, an estimated 40m 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 favourite among activists and others concerned about their privacy. That too has made it a worry of Iranian authorities.
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