Netizens Outcry Moscow’s Telegram Blocking, Protests For Internet Freedom

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A move by the Russian government to officially block the services of Telegram has sparked yet another round of protests from youths and adults alike who wish to push for more internet freedom in the state. Moscow met more than 7,000 angry netizens with statements and placards who wish for the government to revoke the big move against the app, which is capable of providing encrypted and secure messaging amongst its users.

According to BBC News, the protesters have mainly targeted the Rozkomnadzor, Russia’s telecommunications watchdog, who has made the move to deny Telegram access to its Russian user base on a nationwide scale. Since April 16, Russian Telegram users can no longer access the app, but the ban has also hit addresses such as Amazon and Google, which was accessed by Telegram to fully function as well.  

The Rozkomnadzor has apparently made the move to block Telegram in order to quell possible national threats.

As per the BBC News report, while the police gave a rough 7,500 crowd count during the protests, White Counter – an activist organization – said a whopping 12,300 protesters gathered in the recent pro-Telegram event. This hasn’t been the first pro-Telegram event either, with another one having occurred a few days back in April 22. This one was courtesy of the Russian Libertarian Party.

Alexei Navalny, one of Russia’s most famous activists, was also present with the crowd of upset netizens. The anti-corruption blogger made a name for himself especially in the eyes of the opposition when thousands of activists rallied with him via social media, and was also detained in Moscow just early this year after he was disallowed from running as president.

Speaking to the crowd, Navalny said that only the internet – of all the sectors in the “poor country” that is Russia – has been developed. He added that it’s precisely because of the freedom the internet offers that he can’t tolerate when people like the state have performed moves that appears as though they’re removing the internet from the masses.

 

Telegram And The Rise Of Encrypted Messaging

Berlin-based Telegram is a cross-platform messaging application developed back in 2014 which had recently gained popularity when WhatsApp servers experienced a huge crash for a short while the same year. Telegram has since then gained more than five million users and has been a powerhouse in terms of encrypted and fast-paced messaging.

Telegram’s existence also divided the messenger user base, as after all not a lot of people were happy when Facebook had purchased the rival WhatsApp the same year for $19-billion. What perhaps made Telegram interesting then was its “self-destruct” option, similar to Snapchat and WhatsApp. This allows messages to disappear within a set period of time, akin to the new Secret Conversations feature of Facebook Messenger.

Perhaps what made Telegram appealing to its user base even until today was that it’s perhaps one of the most popular messaging apps to boast end-to-end encryption, meaning even Telegram staff can’t view conversations that occur from two users.

 

The Fight For Internet Freedom

The recent move by the state to take control of the largest television channels in the country may have been part of what ignited the flame to start the protests. After all, state-controlled television meant the opposition voices now only have social media to depend on to be heard.

The Rozkomnadzor’s move against Telegram appears to have affected not just the Russian Telegram user base and Russian netizens as a whole, but also some enterprises and businesses. BBC Russian, as per BBC News, said one Alexander Vikharev is planning to sue Roskomnadzor after his businesses was affected by the Telegram blocking. Vikharev may be just one of many who may take legal action against the telecoms watchdog.

Although Telegram has yet to make an official statement, its creator Pavel Durov did praise the app’s Russian fans through VKontakte, which is Russia’s version of social media giant Facebook. He commended the action of the protesters who are constantly pushing for internet freedom in the country, adding their “energy is changing the world.”

It can be remembered that the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur has considered Internet Access a basic human right, and has called upon all member states to make sure internet access is still provided even at times of political unrest. Russia is one of the United Nations’ 192-strong membership, and is among one of the five permanent members of its Security Council. This effectively gives it veto power, which allows it to influence the move of the U.N. towards various policies.

 

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