Russia banned the app after the company refused to hand over encryption keys to unscramble messages. In response, activists took to the streets with paper planes, launching the small colored origami models at the cold facade of the Kremlin.
Flying Planes for Internet Freedom
— Pussy Riot (@pussyrrriot) April 17, 2018
The performance lasted no longer than fifteen minutes, and some protestors, including Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, were arrested in the action. Telegram CEO Pavel Durov then urged protesters to come together in solidarity for internet freedom, and fly paper airplanes in unison on April 22, 2018:
“If you live in Russia and support free internet, fly a paper plane from your window at 7 PM local time today. Please collect the airplanes in your neighborhood an hour later – remember, today is Earth Day.”
The defiant CEO also voiced his satisfaction at the failed efforts of Russian authorities to crack down on the app:
“For [seven] days Russia has been trying to ban Telegram on its territory – with no luck so far. [I’m] thrilled we were able to survive under the most aggressive attempt of internet censorship in Russian history with almost 18 million IP addresses blocked.”
While they might not be effective at banning Telegram, the censorship seems to have had other consequences.
The Russian telecom regulator Roskomnadzor has said that it blocked Google net or IP addresses because the messaging service was using them, but this seems to have impacted other services, including Google, who have received reports from Russian users that they are unable to access some products.
Durov, who has committed himself to fighting against internet censorship, insists that there are ways around the prohibition, including proxies and VPNs. On his Telegram channel, he claims that he has started giving out grants, in the form of Bitcoin, to companies and individuals that run socks5 proxies and VPN.
Durov left Russia for Berlin in 2014 and has since become a vocal critic of Russian policies and censorship. One of the paper plane protestors, Alyokhina of Pussy Riot, told The Daily Beast:
“Russia is an unpredictable country, where Putin’s officers now, by law, can break into your house or even shoot you in the street. [One] moment you are kidding with friends about paper planes, the next moment you are inside a cage, banging on the bars, calling for a prison guard to let you use the bathroom.”