MOSCOW (Reuters) – Hundreds of people gathered in Moscow on Sunday to demand the unblocking of the Telegram app, the second protest in the Russian capital since authorities blocked the popular messaging service last month.
Protesters chanted anti-government slogans and held up signs bearing messages against internet censorship. Some threw paper planes into the air, symbolizing the Telegram logo.
“The authorities want to deprive us of our secret messages, of our privacy,” opposition politician Mikhail Kassianov told protesters. âThe Internet is the main freedom that exists for all of us. We cannot let this happen.
Telegram was blocked on April 16 by order of the state communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, after refusing to grant Russian state security access to its users’ encrypted messages.
âDown with Roskomnadzor! chanted the demonstrators.
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has said it needs such access to guard against security threats such as terrorist attacks. But Telegram said law enforcement would violate users’ privacy.
By blocking the app, Roskomnadzor also cut off access to many other websites.
About twenty people were arrested during the rally, according to the Human Rights Observatory OVD-Info.
A similar protest in support of Telegram drew thousands to the streets of Moscow last month.
Telegram is widely used in the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. Telegram founder Pavel Durov, a Russian social media pioneer, said last month that Russians made up around 7% of its users.
Some Telegram users have bypassed the block by using VPNs, making it look like they are accessing the internet from another country.
Iran last month also blocked Telegram in an attempt to protect national security.
Writing by Gabrielle TÃ©trault-Farber; Editing by Edmund Blair