Mass protest kicks off in Moscow against Telegram blocking

Thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow on Monday, throwing paper planes and protesting for authorities to unblock the popular Telegram instant messaging app. 

Russia began blocking Telegram last month.
Russia began blocking Telegram last month.

Protesters chanted slogans against President Vladimir Putin as they launched the planes – a reference to the app’s logo.

According to a Reuters report, one protestor said, “Putin’s regime has declared war on the internet, has declared war on free society… so we have to be here in support of Telegram.”

Russia began blocking Telegram last month after the app refused to comply with a court order to grant state security services access to its users’ encrypted messages. The effort to close Telegram has also knocked out countless other sites for brief periods, including some top websites, like Yandex and Vkontakte – the Russian equivalents of Google and Facebook.

Russia’s FSB Federal Security service has said it needs access to some of the Telegram messages for its work, that includes guarding against militant attacks.

The FSB has repeatedly warned that the Telegram messenger was often used by terrorists. In March, the FSB officers arrested members of an Islamic State “sleeper cell,” who were communicating through Telegram. According to the FSB, the app was also used by the terrorist cell that carried out the April 2017 attack in the Russian city of St. Petersburg.

Iran’s judiciary has also banned the app to protect national security, Iranian state TV reported on Monday.

Telegram’s founder, Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, called for “digital resistance” in response to the decision and promised to fund anyone developing proxies and VPNs to dodge the block.

More than 12,000 people joined the march on Monday, said White Counter, a volunteer group that counts people at protests.

“Thousands of young and progressive people are currently protesting in Moscow in defence of internet freedom,” Telegram’s Durov wrote on his social media page. “This is unprecedented. I am proud to have been born in the same country as you. Your energy changes the world.”

Telegram has more than 200 million global users and is ranked as the world’s ninth most popular mobile messaging service.

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