Iran Criminalizes Use Of Telegram’s Gram Cryptocurrency

News, Regulation | January 2, 2019 By:

The government of Iran has criminalized the use of Gram, the native cryptocurrency of instant messaging app Telegram.

Launched in 2013, Telegram is an encrypted, cloud-based instant messaging service with over 200 million active users. The company raised almost $2 billion in two rounds of private funding last year to build its own blockchain network called the Telegram Open Network (TON) with tokens built-in to enable much faster transaction speeds than rival blockchain networks.

In Iran, Telegram is the most popular messaging platform with 45 million users. The platform was banned in Iran in the aftermath of January 2018 protest demonstrations in which the messaging service was used to mobilize protesters and organize widespread anti-government demonstrations. However, the ban had very little impact on Telegram’s popularity as users quickly learned to use Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to circumvent filtering.

On December 31, 2018, the Iranian government declared that any cooperation with Telegram to launch Gram will constitute an action against national security and will be dealt with as a disruption to the national economy.

“One of the most important factors in banning Telegram was a sense of serious economic threat from its activities, which was unfortunately marginalized and neglected due to the fuss in the political atmosphere of the country,” said Javad Javidnia, Secretary of Criminal Content Definition Task Force.

Iranian officials were highly critical of Telegram’s shift towards blockchain. In April 2018, Hassan Firouzabadi, secretary of the country’s High Council for Cyberspace, cited the lack of regulation around cryptocurrency as one of the problems with letting Telegram continue to function in the country.