Iraq suspends Telegram over 'national security'

06 Aug 2023 09:53pm
The Iraqi government on Sunday said it was suspending the popular Telegram messaging application across the country on "national security" grounds, drawing criticism on channels close to pro-Iran factions. - Photo by Bernama
The Iraqi government on Sunday said it was suspending the popular Telegram messaging application across the country on "national security" grounds, drawing criticism on channels close to pro-Iran factions. - Photo by Bernama
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BAGHDAD - The Iraqi government on Sunday said it was suspending the popular Telegram messaging application across the country on "national security" grounds, drawing criticism on channels close to pro-Iran factions.

The service was effectively blocked by midday on Sunday, with new messages not loading for users in Baghdad. The application was still accessible to users connected using a VPN.

Iraq's ministry of communications justified the decision, citing "directives from higher authorities related to national security".

The ministry also said the suspension was necessary to "protect the personal data of citizens, which is violated by the application".

The government said Telegram "did not respond" to its repeated requests to address the issue of "data leakage from state institutions and individuals, which poses a threat to national security and social peace."

Telegram is very popular in Iraq, and is notably used as a propaganda platform for groups associated with armed factions and pro-Iran political parties.

One such channel criticised Iraq's decision to suspend Telegram, saying that it amounted to "gagging" them.

The channel, which has over 330,000 subscribers, also accused the Iraqi government, backed by pro-Iran parties, of "confiscating freedoms".

After decades of conflict, Iraq has regained relative stability, but authorities are regularly criticised by NGOs and activists for undermining freedom of expression.

Last month, Amnesty International expressed concern that the Iraqi government was considering submitting two bills to parliament that, if passed, would "severely curtail the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly".

The rights group noted that the draft legislation was being proposed at the same time as "a series of trials targeting individuals critical of government figures".

Telegram has previously been blocked in a number of other countries.

In April, the messaging app was suspended in Brazil for failing to provide data on neo-Nazi groups active on the platform.

The decision was overturned on appeal two days later. - AFP