Telegram blocked in Iraq over national security concerns

Iraq’s Ministry of Communications announced on Sunday that it had suspended the popular messaging app Telegram, citing national security issues and the mishandling of users’ personal data.

In a statement, the ministry detailed its attempts to engage with the company, requesting the closure of “platforms that leak the data of the official state institutions and the personal data of citizens.” Despite these efforts, the ministry said, “the company did not respond and did not interact with any of these requests.”

The Ministry was keen to emphasise its commitment to “citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and communication, without prejudice to the security of the state and its institutions.”

Telegram, widely used in Iraq—including by Iran-backed militia groups linked to political factions in the parliament—has become a source of concern for the Iraqi government. Some channels contain substantial personal data, such as names, addresses, and family connections of Iraqi citizens.

Experts have highlighted the app’s role in facilitating paramilitary groups in publicising their attacks, including assaults on military bases hosting coalition troops fighting remnants of ISIS.

A study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace identified nearly two dozen Telegram channels created between March 2020 and 2021, of which over 75% were affiliated with militias. The Sabereen news channel, affiliated with Iran-backed groups, has been a notable source of information on militia activities, often posting news of attacks on coalition bases and the US embassy.

In addition to its use by political and paramilitary groups, the encrypted instant messaging app has also been utilised by terrorist organisations. ISIS, for instance, confirmed the death of its leader Abu Hussein Al Husseini Al Quraishi via Telegram this week.

Last year, an ISIS follower was sentenced to over eight years in prison by a London court for distributing terrorist propaganda on the app.

By midday on Sunday, the service was effectively blocked in Iraq, though it remained accessible to users connected through a VPN.

The decision to suspend Telegram has provoked criticism from channels aligned with pro-Iran factions. One channel, with over 330,000 subscribers, accused the Iraqi government, supported by pro-Iran parties, of “confiscating freedoms” and described the suspension as an act of “gagging.”

Iraq’s government asserts that the suspension of Telegram is vital to “protect the personal data of citizens, which is violated by the application” and to address the “data leakage from state institutions and individuals, which poses a threat to national security and social peace.”

The move represents a significant action in Iraq’s ongoing struggle to balance security concerns with freedom of expression and communication, and it will likely continue to be a contentious issue within the country’s complex political landscape.

Image Credit: Dima Solomin on Unsplash

Tags : Iraq