The Iranian government has ordered network providers to block access to Telegram, a popular messaging app that is used by an estimated 40 million Iranians – approximately half the population, it was reported Monday.
According to a statement from Tehran’s culture and media judiciary court, the service providers must bar all access to Telegram’s website and app.
Reuters reported that Iran’s state TV said the ban was to protect national security.
“Considering various complaints against Telegram social networking app by Iranian citizens, and based on the demand of security organizations for confronting the illegal activities of Telegram, the judiciary has banned its usage in Iran,” state TV reported.
The court order follows the Iranian government’s warning last month that it would seek a total ban of the messaging platform for security reasons.
Telegram, which bills itself as an encrypted messaging service, was used as a tool to organize protests in the country earlier this year and was also temporarily shut down during demonstrations in January.
While Telegram has been important in keeping Iranians connected and crucial in organizing country-wide movements, Iranian officials claim the ban is necessary because the app is used by terrorists and pornographers.
The court also stated that the decision was made after numerous complaints were filed against Telegram, as well as requests by relevant Iranian authorities.
“The messaging app, through foreign investment and without complying with the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has acted illegally and inappropriately in the cyberspace of the country and has become a safe platform for activities of terrorist groups including the Islamic State (IS, ISIL),” the judicial statement read.
According to the court, Telegram also disrupts national unity and creates disagreements among Iranians through racial and ethic issues, and encourages violent uprisings. The court also suggested that the app gathers information on Iranian citizens in order to give to foreign nations as an act of espionage.
The nationwide ban of the app was issued just a few days after the country barred all government officials from using it, as well. The service was preferred by Iranian state media and politicians.
Many Iranians have already found ways to circumvent the block through the use of VPN software that allows users to utilize encrypted links to private networks based in other countries. However, Iranian officials said they will ensure that the Telegram app will not be accessible through VPNs, either.