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WhatsApp, Line and Tango in Jeopardy in Iran, As President and Judiciary Clash

The future of the messaging services WhatsApp, Line, and Tango has become uncertain in Iran since the national judiciary announced a decision to filter the three apps. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance is refusing to comment on a January 7 decision.

According to reports by Iran's official state news agency, the judiciary's decision was meant to enter force immediately after it was announced on January 7. Iran's judiciary is independent from the president's office, reporting only to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomenei. 

In a public statement on January 17, Culture Minister Ali Jannati refused to say if the government planned to implement the ban on the three messaging services, but did confirm that they currently remain accessible to Internet users in Iran. Jannati also reiterated President Hassan Rouhani's position on the issue, saying Iranians should have free access to the messaging services, particularly in light of their popularity.

WhatsApp, Line, and Tango provide Iranians with an inexpensive means of circumventing state-controlled telephone and messaging services, connecting Iranians with each other and people abroad. 

Tehran’s Chief Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi acknowledged that the government and the Judiciary do not agree about filtering the applications, but he confirmed that police will implement the judiciary's ruling either way. Mehr News reported that the judiciary issued implementation orders to the Ministry of ICT, but officials have put the orders on hold until the government and judiciary are able to come to an agreement.  

According to Fars news agency, Jannati stated: “we have to use smart-filtering to rid these applications of unlawful content, however blocking these applications entirely would be wrong.” 

Discussions regarding “smart-filtering” have been ongoing in Iran. Given the technological obstacles to content-based filtering, however, such an approach wouldn't likely resolve the current conflict between Iran's warring bureaucracies. Despite blocks on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook in Iran, many Iranians bypass these controls using proxy-servers and other circumvention tools.

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