Iraq blocks Telegram over ‘national security’ concerns

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Iraq's Ministry of Communications on Sunday announced that the country was blocking popular messaging service Telegram, citing concerns over “national security” and threats to citizens’ personal data.

The ministry said that the decision has been issued “based on directives of higher authorities,” claiming that relative authorities had repeatedly requested Telegram to shut down channels that were leaking documents of state institutions and personal data of Iraqi users, but had not received a response from the platform.

Digital Media Center (DMC), an Iraqi non-governmental organization monitoring and analyzing digital media, in late July criticized Telegram’s “poor” technical support saying that the ignoring of reports filed by Iraqi users has turned the app into a “hotspot for digital crime” in the country.

The DMC said that it had recorded dozens of channels on the platform that specialize in electronic extortion and have leaked personal data of thousands Iraqi users, while Telegram “continuously ignores requests to delete the violating channels.”

Telegram is very popular among Iraqi users, and is the main platform for many of the country’s armed factions and militias.

Sabreen news, a channel affiliated with Iranian-backed factions of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), has heavily criticized the Iraqi government’s decision, labelling it as “silencing” and “fighting press freedom.”

The channel, which has over 330 thousand subscribers on Telegram, has called for a campaign of “political and media opposition to all government activities” in response to the recent decision.

“The communication ministry reaffirms its respect for the people’s rights to freedom of expression and communication without violating the security of the state and its institutions, and expresses its confidence in the citizens' understanding of this measure.,” read the statement from the Iraqi ministry.

Human right watchdogs frequently criticize Iraqi authorities for violating press freedom.

According to a Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report, Iraq ranks 172nd out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, falling even further from 163rd in 2021.

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