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Indonesia Agrees to Ease Restrictions on Telegram Messaging Service

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
Jakarta
2017-08-01
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Rudiantara (left), Indonesia’s minister of Communications and Information, shakes hands with Telegram CEO Pavel Durov during a meeting in Jakarta about establishing procedures to block extremist propaganda on the popular messaging platform, Aug, 1, 2017.
Courtesy Indonesian Ministry of Communications and Information

The Indonesian government agreed Tuesday to unblock nearly a dozen domain names used by the encrypted messaging service Telegram, after the company’s co-founder promised to eradicate terrorist propaganda and content.

Last month Indonesia blocked 11 domain names belonging to Telegram after collecting evidence that many channels on the messaging app had been promoting extremist ideologies, including some linked to the extremist group Islamic State (IS).

The decision came after Telegram co-founder and CEO Pavel Durov met with Rudiantara, Indonesia’s minister of Communications and Information, in Jakarta on Tuesday.

“We discussed ways to block the public channels available for the propaganda of terrorism, which is something that we are committed to do globally, and particularly in Indonesia,” Durov said during a joint news conference. “And we have discussed ways to make it more efficient.”

“We have agreed to keep Telegram accessible,” said Rudiantara, who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name.

The government will take steps to remove all blocks this week, officials said.

Meeting at Rudiantara’s office, the two sides discussed ways to eliminate distribution of extremist propaganda on the popular messaging app.

Semuel A. Pangerapan, director general of the communications ministry, told reporters that other social media sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Google, could be scrutinized too for extremist content.

Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim-majority population, had identified 55 channels on Telegram that contain terrorism-related content, including forums and discussions regarding terror plots, officials said.

They said they had printed out 17,000 pages of terrorism-related content from Telegram’s web-based channels, adding that most individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges between 2015 and July 2017 claimed to have used the application.

Apologies from Telegram’s boss

Durov apologized for failing to respond immediately to emails from the Indonesian government requesting the removal of channels and forums used by extremist supporters.

Officials said they had sent six emails to Telegram from March 29, 2016, to July 11, 2017, but got no response until July 13, when the government decided to block 11 domain names used by the messaging platform.

Durov said he and Rudiantara talked about propaganda by individuals on public channels in which IS can recruit members.

He said Telegram could block terrorist channels within hours as it would employ Indonesian-speaking staff to assist in identifying content related to terrorism and extremist propaganda.

Critics said it would make more sense for the government to monitor Telegram, which had more than 100 million monthly active users last year and is believed to be popular among IS sympathizers.

To counter the spread of radical content, other critics said, the government could take other steps, including disseminating anti-radical videos on social media.

Regional cooperation to counter propaganda

At a regional terrorism meeting in Manado, North Sulawesi province, officials from six nations agreed on Saturday to cooperate in countering terrorist propaganda, including those shared through social media.

“The six countries agreed that there is an urgency to cooperate with companies that provide social networking, content sharing and messaging services,” Wiranto, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, told a news conference after the meeting.

“Social media companies will help track down the existence of terrorists or directly prevent them,” he said.

Rudiantara was among the officials who attended the meeting co-hosted by Indonesia and Australia and attended by Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines and New Zealand.

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