Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has criticised a recent ban on the country’s most popular messaging app, Telegram, saying the judiciary’s decision is not supported by his administration.
In a post on Instagram, Rouhani clarified on Friday that the blocking of Telegram was not imposed by his government and that he did not approve of it.
On April 30, the country’s Culture and Media court ordered telecoms companies to block the app, which has about 40 million users in the country.
Critics have accused it of threatening Iran’s national security and also enabling anti-establishment protesters to organise.
“If a decision has been made to restrict or block the communication of the people, the real owners of this country, which are the people, should be included in making such decisions,” Rouhani said.
The statement also said that the blockage was “opposite to democracy”.
Iran’s judiciary is controlled by conservatives and the chief of the judiciary is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In a statement, Human Rights Watchalso denounced the decision as an “unjustifiable restriction on freedom of expression and access to information”.
Facebook and Twitter are also blocked in the country, but can be accessible by virtual private network (VPN) software, which can circumvent blackouts of banned apps.
The move by the judiciary to block Telegram was not the first such attempt by Iran’s conservatives to contain the influence of the application. In early 2017, a number of reformist Telegram channel administrators were arrested and later received prison sentences.
Iran’s supreme leader said in mid-April that he would no longer use Telegram and would instead shift to a homegrown app, Soroush, that boasts most of the features found in the now banned messaging platform.
Over the past few months, Telegram has been in legal battles with the governments of several countries.
Besides Iran, the messenger app was also recently blocked in Russia because the company refused to hand over its encryption keys to Russian security services.
Handing over these keys would allow the government to read all messages sent on the platform, violating user privacy.