Iranian authorities have arrested administrators of more than 20 groups on messaging app Telegram, citing the spread of “immoral content” as the reason. This is the latest detention in a clampdown on freedom of expression by the Iranian regime. Over the past few weeks, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has rounded up a number of journalists, U.S. citizens, artists and others for fear of Western “infiltration.”
Users of the app Telegram were targeted for sharing images and texts that were “insulting to Iranian officials.” Others were arrested or satire or sexual advice.
The U.N. human rights investigators called on Iranian authorities last week to cease arresting, harassing and prosecuting journalists and activists.
Iran has some of the strictest controls on Internet access in the world. Several branches of the security establishment monitor content. Sometimes, social media posts result in harsh sentences.
Telegram was launched in 2013, and has become popular among activists and Iranian citizens because it was seen as being more secure than its rivals. Last year, 11 people were arrested by the IRGC or insulting Ayatollah Khomeini on messaging services Whatsapp, Tango, Viber and Telegram.
In a tweet on October 20, the head of Telegram, Pavel Durov, claimed to have turned down Iranian Information and Communications Technology Ministry’s request to provide it with “spying and censorship tools”. Though he later deleted the tweet, the incident speaks to the intensifying interest on Iran’s part to monitor and control its citizens.