Thousands of people have gathered on the streets of the Russian capital to protest against the government’s blocking of the encrypted messaging app Telegram.
Protesters in Moscow are carrying placards with messages like “We do not want television, we want Telegram” and “Things are so bad even the introverts have come out”.
Telegram, founded by Pavel Durov, is one of the most popular messaging apps in Russia.
Monday’s demonstration took place exactly two weeks after a court announced that the Russian government was allowed to block Telegram because it did not want to hand over encryption keys to security services, possibly allowing them to read all messages sent using the app.
Telegram used several techniques to circumvent the impending blockade.
Communications censor Roskomnadzor attempted to block Telegram regardless, blocking millions of IP addresses and inadvertently affecting various other companies.
It was not able to completely block the app, however.
The campaign has not only has failed to fully block Telegram, but it has made it more popular.
In fact, the backlash against the censor and acts of defiance by Telegram users have already made some in Russia talk of an “internet civil war”.
The protest is also being attended by Alexei Navalny, a prominent anti-Putin opposition leader, who called for his supporters to join him.
“I’m going to the rally to protect the internet. And I hope you are coming too,” Navalny said on Twitter.
Social media networks like Telegram, Twitter and YouTube were used extensively by Navalny to gain popularity in the run-up to the 2018 elections, in which he was not allowed to run.
The restrictions on Telegram have led to an increase in the use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) services, which allow Telegram users to continue using the app.
According to Google data, the searches for “Virtual Private Network” and “VPN” saw a steep increase in April.
It is not the first time that Roskomnadzor, which was established as a separate agency 10 years ago, has blocked messenger apps.
In May 2017, the censor included the apps BlackBerry Messenger, imo, Line and Vchat on its list of banned websites after they refused to comply with provisions of the “organisations of information dissemination” law.
Telegram was recently also blocked in Iran by the government which said encrypted messages pose a “risk to national security”.
The app was used extensively during the 2017 anti-government protests.
A government-backed replacement for Telegram has since been released in Iran. – Al Jazeera.