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Iran includes 'death to America' emoji in state-approved messaging app

'Soroush' launched to counter popularity of encrypted, privacy-driven Telegram app, said to be used by 50 million Iranians
Soroush emojis, which include emojis expressing 'death to America' (top right) and support for the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamenei (screengrab)

The Iranian government has launched a new messaging app replete with "Death to America" and pro-Khamenei emojis, in an attempt to counter the popularity of the encrypted, privacy-driven Telegram service.

About 50 million Iranians currently use Telegram, which has concerned the authorities who suspect it was a driving force behind anti-government protests in December and January.

The new app, "Soroush", features emojis featuring chador-wearing women and attacks on the United States, Israel, the US and Freemasonry.

It currently claims five million users, closely resembles Telegram in that it allows users to join channels, follow news, and conduct business online.

It also contains a feature to transfer existing Telegram accounts to the new application.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei closed down his Telegram account last week “in line with safeguarding national interests and removing the monopoly of the Telegram messaging app".

State media reported that the Iranian government had banned "all state bodies from using the foreign messaging app".

Despite this, the IRGC still maintains a Telegram account, while the Quds Force, an elite brigade in the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, announced a competition for joining the new messaging app on its own Telegram account.

About 50 million Iranians currently use the encrypted messaging platform Telegram (AFP)
Although Iran officially bans the use of Twitter and other foreign social media apps, Khamenei and other officials still maintain accounts on Twitter.

Many Iranians still use Twitter and other banned platforms by using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to bypass the restrictions.

December saw mass unrest in Iran as anger boiled over against corruption and unemployment, sparked by attempts to reform the country's subsidy system by President Hassan Rouhani.

Telegram users shared photos of protests, including pictures of female demonstrators taking off their headscarves in public.

Images flowed into the outside world through the app, often by way of the National Council of Resistance in Iran, a controversial anti-government group based in Albania.