Iran bans Telegram as sanctions deadline looms

Iranian women use mobile phones in Tehran Iran bans Telegram as sanctions deadline looms Iran bans Telegram as sanctions deadline looms eda49d198aImage copyrightAFP
Image caption Millions of Iranians rely on their mobile devices for news and business

Iran has banned all use of the popular Telegram messaging app.

The ban had been introduced to protect “national security”, said a statement aired on state television.

It is believed the ban is connected to protests expected on 12 May if US President Donald Trump re-imposes sanctions on Iran.

Iranian authorities have complained before about the way Telegram has been used by anti-government groups to organise rallies and protests.

State television programmes in Iran said the ban had been prompted by “various complaints” against Telegram by Iranians and the demands of the nation’s security services to “confront” its illegal activities.

A statement placed on Mizan, the official website of Iran’s judiciary, said the security of the state had been threatened by the actions of Telegram users, which included “propaganda against the establishment, terrorist activities, spreading lies to incite public opinion, anti-government protests and pornography”.

Protests are expected in Iran later this month as an accord that lifted economic sanctions on the nation comes up for renewal.

President Trump has set a deadline of 12 May for what he described as “flaws” in the deal to be fixed. If they remain, he is set to abandon the deal.

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The ban, which cuts off access to the Telegram website and its app, came into force on 30 April.

In late April, Iranian officials told Telegram to move some servers out of the country to stop the sharing of images and videos via Telegram.

In January, the app suffered a short ban following protests in more than 80 cities, many of which, the government says, were organised via the app.

Telegram is believed to have about 40 million users in Iran. Many use it because the way it encrypts or scrambles messages makes it much harder for security services to scrutinise what they are saying.

The Iranian government has sought to push citizens to use official alternatives to Telegram, including the Soroush messaging app.

Iran’s action against Telegram follows similar moves by Russia to block use of the app. Users mounted protests in Moscow this week, calling for the lifting of the block and to lobby for more online freedom.

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Autonomy ex-executive guilty of fraud

Autonomy building Autonomy ex-executive guilty of fraud Autonomy ex-executive guilty of fraud b7cd041eceImage copyrightAlamy

A former senior executive at the UK software firm Autonomy has been convicted of fraud in the United States.

It is the first judgement in a legal battle that has raged since Hewlett Packard bought the firm in 2011.

Former chief financial officer Sushovan Hussain was found guilty of artificially inflating the firm’s financial position before it was sold.

Mr Hussain’s lawyers say he will appeal against the judgement.

Prosecutors argued that starting in 2009, senior managers at Autonomy, which was one of the UK’s largest software companies, sought to inflate the company’s share price and make the firm more attractive to potential buyers by artificially boosting the number of transactions on its balance sheet.

After HP bought Autonomy for £7.1bn in 2011, the US tech giant said it had uncovered accounting irregularities. A year later, it was forced to write off most of the value of the software firm.

Autonomy’s founder and chief executive, Mike Lynch, a former Cambridge researcher, vehemently rejected HP’s claims that management misled HP over the company’s value. He said HP had concocted the accusations to distract from their own mismanagement and poor performance.

Mr Lynch and Mr Hussain, both British citizens, are also facing a civil case in London, as HP sues them for damages.

Mr Hussain was found guilty on all 16 charges, in what prosecutors claimed amounted to an “unsustainable Ponzi scheme” during the 10 years he managed the firm’s finances.

He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution, for each charge. Sentencing will take place on Friday.

Revenue ‘manipulated’

Hewlett Packard issued a statement saying it was pleased with the verdict.

“As we have consistently maintained, Mr Hussain engaged in outright fraud and deliberately misled the market about non-existent sales through a series of calculated sham transactions,” it said.

“Autonomy manipulated their revenue, and quarterly results, making an accurate valuation impossible.

“That Mr Hussain attempted to depict the fraud as nothing more than a misunderstanding of international accounting rules was, and still remains, patently ridiculous – and the jury has now held him accountable for his role in defrauding HP.”

Mr Hussain pleaded not guilty in the trial, which took place in San Francisco.

“Mr Hussain defrauded no one and acted at all times with the highest standards of honesty, integrity and competence,” said his lawyer, John Keker.

“It is a shame that the United States Department of Justice lent its support to HP’s campaign to blame others for its own catastrophic failings.”

He said important evidence that backed up Mr Hussain’s defence had been excluded from the trial.

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Robot company Starship Technologies plans 1,000 delivery bots

grocery delivery robots Robot company Starship Technologies plans 1,000 delivery bots Robot company Starship Technologies plans 1,000 delivery bots d1c1e7c33aImage copyrightStarship

A company which specialises in delivery robots plans to expand its operations from two campuses to twenty by 2019 with a fleet of a thousand.

Starship Technologies is partnering with the Co-op in Milton Keynes to deliver groceries there.

It follows trials with Just Eat to deliver takeaways in South London.

One expert told the BBC he thinks it will be a long time before they become a regular sight on normal streets.

The machines have a top speed of 10mph (16.1 km/h) and in busy areas are accompanied by a human minder.

The firm claims none has been stolen or vandalised, with 100,000 miles of delivery journeys completed so far.

The robots will be put to work in 20 university or work campuses across the UK, US and Germany, Starship said.

They can travel up to three miles and are fitted with ultrasonic sensors for detecting obstacles, nine cameras, radar and GPS.

Upon arrival, the recipient of the parcel receives a text message containing a link to unlock the robot.

Starship told Radio 4’s You and Yours programme it can deliver 200 of the most common grocery items via robot in Milton Keynes.

Milton Keynes is already earmarked as one of the UK’s testing grounds for driverless cars.

“These campus environments are like robot playgrounds,” said Henry Harris-Burland, Starship’s vice president of marketing.

“In Hamburg we are delivering spare parts and tools between buildings and to people’s desks. Sorting offices in some businesses are becoming overloaded as people order more personal deliveries to their workplace.

“Anything that can fit in the robot we can deliver.”

In Germany, car giant Mercedes Benz uses the robots to deliver parcels internally.

However technology analyst Dean Bubley told the BBC there were still challenges to be addressed.

“Letting them loose alone on public streets will be very difficult because of the unpredictability of the general public,” he said.

“There will be questions about liability if there are accidents, security and even stray dogs, cats and pigeons could prove a problem.”

Starship was set up by two of the co-founders of Skype in 2014.

It has not said how much its current expansion will cost, but raised nearly £15m in funding last year.

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Drones deliver blood and medical supplies in Rwanda

Doctors in rural Rwanda are able to order blood and medical supplies by text message and then have them delivered by a drone.

Technology company Zipline has developed a system where drones are catapulted by zip wire into the air. The drones then travel at 80mph, releasing their delivery when they reach their destination.

BBC Click finds out more.

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick.

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Cancer researchers need phones to process data

man asleep by phone Cancer researchers need phones to process data Cancer researchers need phones to process data b9c3905fcbImage copyrightGetty Images

A cancer research team hopes to build a network of more than 100,000 UK smartphones to help process data while their owners sleep.

Phone owners can get involved by downloading an app and donating some of their wi-fi or data plan.

The handsets will need to be switched on and charged for six hours per night.

The aim is that they will form a huge network that processes data about different drug combination, using an algorithm built by the team.

It would take over 100 years for a single desktop computer to process the amount of data involved, the researchers said.

“Cancer research progress is slowed by a lack of access to supercomputing,” said Dr Kirill Veselkov, from the faculty of medicine at Imperial College.

“It’s needed to complete analysis – but it’s limited and costly.

“This is a great example of a citizen science project – with members of the public directly involved.”

The project, called Drugs (Drug Repositioning Using Grids of Smartphones), is a collaboration with the Vodafone Foundation and is expected to run for two years.

Image copyrightVodafone Foundation

Dr Veselkov’s team is searching for new combinations of existing drugs that can be tailored to cancer patients’ individual genetic make-up. Each one is unique.

“Let’s say there are 10,000 drugs, with different combinations – that’s a trillion possibilities,” said Dr Veselkov.

“If you want to crunch these possibilities, it could take over 300 years. Harnessing the power of 100,000 phones, you can do the same in two or three months.”

The Dreamlab app it will run from was originally developed in partnership with the Garvan Institute in Australia for a similar purpose in 2015.

Another scheme, The World Community Grid, run by IBM, uses the computing power of volunteered devices to research many different illnesses.

Data can be sent to the phone via either wi-fi or mobile data, with a cap of 500MB per month.

No data is taken from the device or any apps installed on it.

“People forget that the processing capability of a modern high-end smartphone is as powerful as a computer from only a few years ago,” said analyst Ben Wood from CCS Insight.

“It makes great sense to try and harness this resource, particularly when a phone is sitting doing nothing overnight other than being charged for the next day’s use.”

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Emergency drones

A drone delivering first aid supplies Emergency drones Emergency drones e2dbc9455eImage copyrightEricsson
Image caption Mobile operators say drones working with mobile networks will speed up emergency response

Drones may be best known for taking impressive aerial videos and inspecting buildings, infrastructure and crops, but they also promise to improve mobile and internet connectivity for emergency services and consumers.

Poor mobile signal in rural areas is frustrating, but it can also be life-threatening in emergency situations. Slow emergency response times mean higher mortality rates.

Mobile signals are usually sent via base stations, attached to buildings or special masts. These are tough to put up in a hurry – so why not attach a base station to a drone?

For the last two years, the Finnish tech firm Nokia and British mobile operator EE have been flying small quadcopter drones mounted with portable mobile base stations in Scotland.

The idea is that in an emergency, a drone could hover over a disaster area to provide instant 4G mobile network coverage with a 50km (31 mile) radius.

But drones can’t fly for very long before the battery runs out – 30 minutes is a typical maximum.

So US telecoms giant AT&T is developing a large, helicopter-like drone known as the “Flying COW”, short for “Cell on Wings”. It is tethered to the ground by a cable that gives it power.

Image copyrightAT&T
Image caption AT&T’s “Flying Cow” drone can stay airborne all day and night

This enables the drone stay in the air 24-hours-a-day at a maximum height of 168m (550ft).

AT&T says it used Flying COW to provide emergency 4G coverage to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in November. Each drone was able to cover an area measuring 36 sq km.

Nokia wants to take things a step further, and turn police vans and fire engines into command and control centres to help emergency responders make crucial decisions much faster than they do today.

The idea is for fire engines to have their own personal 4G network with a 50km radius.

From the command centre, fire fighters would launch drones and use their cameras to survey the scene. The same concept is being used for search and rescue, with artificial intelligence linking the drones together into a “swarm”, so only one pilot is needed to direct a whole group of drones.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption A Firefighter from a UK Fire and Rescue Service pilots a drone

Nokia is testing out the technology with Vodafone and firefighters in Dusseldorf, Germany.

“You don’t need to send firemen into the hostile environment, you will have full situational awareness immediately,” says Thorsten Robrecht, Nokia’s vice president of advanced mobile networks solutions.

“What we see from the police is that this is much quicker and lower cost than a helicopter, which they still mostly use today.”

British start-up Unmanned Life has developed software to send out multiple autonomous drones at the same time to gather information during a crisis, such as when a building is on fire.

One drone hovers in the air providing 4G coverage, while another flies around the building providing live video. A third equipped with heat sensors creates a heat map of the building, while a fourth uses sonar to map structural damage.

Unmanned Life is in talks to provide its system to BT and Verizon, who currently hold government contracts for emergency communication networks in the UK and US.

Swarms of co-operating drones, each with different tasks, help address the flight-time issue because single-function drones can be lighter.

And they can be lighter still if many of their computational and sensing functions – navigation for example – are undertaken by computers on the ground “talking” to the drones wirelessly.

The lighter the drone, the more it can carry.

In February, Ericsson tested this concept with BT and Verizon in London to show that a drone could autonomously carry 5kg of medical supplies from one location to another, without human intervention.

Image copyrightDavid Tett / Ericsson
Image caption A woman watches on a tablet as a man loads a drone with first aid supplies

The trial demonstrated that next-generation superfast 5G networks would be powerful enough to transfer data streams between the drone and the ground, as well as ensuring that the connection to the drone never dropped.

“I think drones together with 5G networks and the IoT [internet of things] offer tremendous opportunities,” says Phil Bonner of Ericsson.

“We need to keep the drone very simple and cheap.”

But drones for deliveries and emergency services will only be viable if they can be flown autonomously without crashing into buildings, trees, pylons, or each other.

So many tech and telecoms companies are racing to build air traffic control systems for them.

“Nokia has a system run on the 4G network that can connect all the drones and knows where they are,” says Mr Robrecht.

“And we have a commercial aircraft 4G network covering the entire airspace in Europe in order to connect all the aircraft flying around.

“We’re trying to work out how to connect the two networks.”

Once this problem is solved, communications drones won’t just be for the emergency services. They could help civilians in all sorts of ways too, such as at sports events.

Image copyrightAFP/Getty Images
Image caption Drones helped fans watching the 2018 Super Bowl enjoy better mobile connectivity

“One of the challenges we see is when people are using their devices in stadiums during the Super Bowl,” says Art Pregler, AT&T’s unmanned aircraft systems programme director.

“If there’s a really good football play, they’re all taking video or looking for an instant replay. That creates a lot of demand on the network.

“But we could have drones in the air augmenting our existing capacity, and that will improve their experience at the event.”

Technology firm Ericsson thinks that in future we could even pay to have a drone launched if we need internet coverage on-demand in an area with bad signal – great for music festivals.

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Image copyrightMagnum Photos

The GSMA, which represents the mobile industry, believes it has an essential role to play in the growth of the commercial drone market.

But Gartner analyst Aapo Markkanen says: “The commercial adoption of drones will happen regardless of telcos [telecoms companies].

“If telcos get involved, that will enable enterprises to do more sophisticated things, but they need to spend money to make money.”

Having a drone with their logo on it riding to the rescue will be good for the telco’s reputations, but it may not be hugely profitable, believes Kester Mann, a principal analyst at CCS Insight.

“There is some benefit in helping communities, and selling solutions to the public sector is one of them,” he says.

“But are we going to see governments cough up for these fancy technologies, at a time when purse strings are under pressure?”

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WhatsApp boss and co-founder Jan Koum to quit

Jan Koum , WhatsApp co-founder WhatsApp boss and co-founder Jan Koum to quit WhatsApp boss and co-founder Jan Koum to quit cd341947d1Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Jan Koum co-founded WhatsApp in 2009

WhatsApp chief executive Jan Koum is to quit the popular messaging service he co-founded.

In a post on Facebook, he said he was “taking some time off to do things I enjoy outside of technology”.

However, according to a Washington Post report earlier on Monday, Mr Koum had clashed with parent company Facebook over WhatsApp’s strategy.

He also objected to Facebook attempts to use WhatsApp’s personal data and weaken its encryption standards.

In his statement Mr Koum said: “It’s been almost a decade since Brian [Acton] and I started WhatsApp, and it’s been an amazing journey with some of the best people. But it is time for me to move on.

“The team is stronger than ever and it’ll continue to do amazing things… And I’ll still be cheering WhatsApp on – just from the outside.”

Stanford alumnus Brian Acton and Ukrainian immigrant Mr Koum co-founded WhatsApp in 2009, before selling it to Facebook in 2014 for $19bn (£13.8bn).

The pair had long prized the protection and independence of WhatsApp user data, and made preserving it a condition of the Facebook takeover.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption WhatsApp is the largest messaging service in the world

However, their relationship with Facebook has soured recently, according to reports.

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Mr Acton left the company in November and has joined other former executives in criticising Facebook. In March he endorsed the #deletefacebook social media campaign that took off after reports of Cambridge Analytica using Facebook’s user data came to light.

Facebook has since revealed that the data of up to 87 million people was improperly shared with the consultancy and used for political purposes.

Both men were also said to oppose Facebook efforts to commercialise WhatsApp, which has no advertising.

According to the Washington Post, this included a Facebook plan to access the phone numbers of WhatsApp users along with other data.

Facebook has since been prevented from making use of UK citizens’ WhatsApp data for purposes beyond the chat app itself.

Last year the EU also fined Facebook $122m for “providing incorrect or misleading information” about its intentions at the time of the WhatsApp acquisition.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg commented on Mr Koum’s post, saying he was grateful for what Mr Koum taught him about encryption “and its ability to take power from centralized systems and put it back in people’s hands. Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp.”

WhatsApp, with 1.5 billion monthly users, is the largest messaging service in the world.

Skip Facebook post by Jan

It’s been almost a decade since Brian and I started WhatsApp, and it’s been an amazing journey with some of the best…

Posted by Jan Koum on Monday, 30 April 2018

End of Facebook post by Jan

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Panasonic hit with $280m corruption fine

Panasonic hit with $280m corruption fine Panasonic hit with $280m corruption fineImage copyrightAFP/Getty

Japanese electronics giant Panasonic has agreed to pay more than $280m (£203m) to resolve charges brought under US anti-corruption law.

The US said the firm’s in-flight entertainment division hired consultants for “improper” purposes and concealed payments to sales agents in China and elsewhere in Asia.

The US said the acts violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Panasonic did not respond to a request for comment.

The payments were made by US-based subsidiary, Panasonic Avionics Corp, between 2007 and 2016, the US said.

In one case, the firm hired a foreign official as a consultant at the same time that the official was negotiating a contract between Panasonic and a government-owned airline in the Middle East.

The official was paid $875,000 over a six-year period, despite doing “little work”, according to US documents.

In other cases, Panasonic determined that sales agents in China and elsewhere did not pass anti-bribery certification, but executives “secretly” rehired them as subcontractors, the US said.

Through that process, the employees shielded more than $7m in payments to at least 13 people, the US said.

The US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) said Panasonic also overstated profits in one quarter in 2012 by backdating an agreement with an airline.

The firm has since “separated” several executives involved in or aware of the “misconduct”, according to the US Justice Department. It has also improved its internal controls.

The fine includes $143m to resolve the charges from the SEC, a financial regulator, as well as $137.4m for the charges brought by the US Justice Department.

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Peppa Pig blocked from China’s Douyin video platform

Peppa Pig Peppa Pig blocked from China's Douyin video platform Peppa Pig blocked from China's Douyin video platform 4b05878a6eImage copyrightGetty Images/Rob Stothard
Image caption Peppa Pig is the latest subject of China’s censors

A popular British cartoon has been removed from one of China’s most popular social media platforms, with state media saying that the character is being used subversively.

Social media users in the country noticed video clips of the cartoon were being removed on Saturday, and on Monday, state newspaper Global Times said that the #PeppaPig hashtag had been removed from the Douyin video website, while searches for “Peppa Pig” on the site produced no results.

Many papers also note that the platform appears to have added “Peppa Pig” to its list of blacklisted content.

The Peppa Pig cartoon is hugely popular in China, but despite being targeted at a pre-school audience, it has found mass appeal with Chinese adults in recent months.

Its characters have become a common feature in memes, including sexually suggestive content.

“After Peppa Pig started to take on this subversive hue and subsequently go viral, some experts said the popularity of the cartoon demonstrates the social psychology of hunting for novelty and spoofing, which could potentially hamper positive societal morale,” Global Times said.

Beijing appears keen to quell subversive enthusiasm for the cartoon by trying to promote friendly domestic pig cartoons instead.

Wildly popular

Peppa Pig has been long popular with children in China, and has attracted some 34 billion views on domestic online video platforms.

It was exported to China in the early 2000s, and over 100 translated episodes have aired in the mainland.

Image copyrightAlamy
Image caption Peppa Pig first aired on TV in 2004

It is shown on the children’s channel of state broadcaster CCTV, and also hosted on a number of digital platforms, such as the Netflix-like website iQiyi.

In recent weeks, however, mainstream media have noticed a mass appeal of the Peppa Pig cartoon among adults.

Image copyrightDOUYIN
Image caption Verified Chinese media outlets are sharing screengrabs showing “Peppa Pig” is blacklisted on Douyin

‘The Peppa Pig virus’

Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post notes that there has been a recent frenzy for Peppa Pig products online, with users paying hundreds of yuan for goods such as “antique-style” Peppa Pig porcelain bowls.

The Sina Entertainment website has also noted the popularity of the cartoon’s plush toys and fairytale cakes among actresses Yang Mi, Nana Ou-yang and Zhao Liying, among others.

It is not only women with a squeaky clean image that have caught what Sina calls “the Peppa Pig virus”; the website shares a number of edgy male actors and singers showing off Peppa Pig, plus toys and transfer tattoos.

The wave sparked a trend of adult Chinese Sina Weibo users sharing pictures of their own Peppa Pig merchandise.

Thousands of female users have shared pictures of pink fans and hair accessories adorned with the lead character, while male users have shared pictures of their stickers and watches.

‘Explicit fake versions’

In recent months, state media have signalled their increasing discomfort about the growing influence of the cartoon.

They have noted that its characters have become the subject of what they call deviance and manipulation among Chinese youths.

Nationalist newspaper Global Times noted in January that social media users had been circulating “explicit fake versions” of the cartoon online, making references to paedophiles and sexual organs.

And a recent article on the popular news portal Sohu notes that there’s been a particular surge of social media users making personalised emojis and memes out of stills of the cartoon.

It says that this has been particularly the case on the Snapchat-like mobile application Douyin – potentially leading to the ban.

A new pig in town

Image copyrightSINA WEIBO
Image caption Thousands of Weibo users are posting pictures of themselves with “Little Dodo” the pig

Douyin’s removal of the popular cartoon from its platform is possibly just the start of a wider clampdown.

It comes as part of a wider crackdown on online content the Beijing government deems vulgar or pornographic.

In recent months, Chinese microblogs such as Sina Weibo have been extensively removing such content from their platforms, stressing that such material is not in keeping with a healthy online culture.

Given China’s millions of online users, it is extremely difficult to simply censor all content when a TV show or personality has proven so popular. Beijing normally takes steps to launch a domestically-approved version, and this is what has happened with Peppa Pig.

One Chinese mobile app, Suishoupai, has launched the character “Little Pig Dodo”, which the Sina Weibo microblog has widely publicised.

It encourages users of Douyin to switch to Suishoupai, and to switch their Peppa Pig fascination for a Dodo the pig. Thousands of users have subsequently registered, and posted pictures of themselves next to emojis of the state-approved pig.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitterand Facebook.

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Russia internet freedom: Mass rally in Moscow against Telegram ban

Pro-Telegram protest, 30 Apr 18 Russia internet freedom: Mass rally in Moscow against Telegram ban Russia internet freedom: Mass rally in Moscow against Telegram ban 8766f60284
Image caption “I’m for a free internet” says a placard at the rally

More than 7,000 people have rallied in Moscow to defend internet freedom and condemn a Russian official block on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

Protesters’ placards decried the state telecoms watchdog, Rozkomnadzor.

On 16 April it began denying access to Telegram, but its action also hit Google, Amazon and some other net addresses used by Telegram in Russia.

The block came after Telegram had refused to hand over its encryption keys to Russia’s FSB spy service.

Russian intelligence chiefs say they need access to messages sent by terrorists and criminals.

The crackdown has hurt some businesses and one entrepreneur, Alexander Vikharev, is suing Roskomnadzor, BBC Russian reports.

Image caption Participants threw paper planes – a symbol of Telegram

Police estimated the crowd to be about 7,500, but an activist organisation called White Counter put the figure at 12,300.

“We won’t be silent!” and “Russia will be free!” protesters shouted.

The central Moscow rally was organised by the Russian Libertarian Party. A previous pro-Telegram rally took place on 22 April.

Under President Vladimir Putin the Russian state has taken control of the major TV channels and other mainstream media, so opposition voices are mainly confined to social media.

Image copyrightAFP
Image caption The participants filled a wide avenue in central Moscow

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Russia’s best-known opposition activist, Alexei Navalny, addressed the crowd. He has mobilised thousands of activists previously through social media, having made his name as an anti-corruption blogger.

“Our country is destitute, it’s a really poor country, where nobody has any prospects. The only sector that has developed in recent years by itself – without the state, or subsidies, or favours – is the internet. And those people say ‘You’re behaving badly on your internet, so we’ll gobble it up’. I won’t tolerate that,” he said.

One placard said “things have got so bad that even the introverts are here”.

The inventor of Telegram’s Messenger app, Pavel Durov, praised the protesters via VKontakte, the Russian version of Facebook.

“Thousands of young and progressive people are now protesting in defence of internet freedom in Moscow – this is unprecedented,” he wrote. “Your energy is changing the world.”

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