Telegram is being blocked following its developers’ decision to refuse a Kremlin order to hand over the encryption keys protecting its users’ private messages, despite a legal order to do so.
Figures released by the Russian interior ministry said that 7,500 people attended the protest, while the demonstrators claimed there were around 10,000 individuals present.
They flew paper planes, the symbol of the messaging app, and gathered at Academician Sakharov Avenue in Moscow – named after the Soviet dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.
Demonstrators also held placards which read “down with the Tsar!” and “for the freedom of speech!”.
Some reports claimed that the protesters were calling for Vladimir Putin’s resignation, chanting that the recently re-elected president was a “thief”.
Opposition figure Alexei Navalny also attended the “internet freedom rally”, speaking from a stage to describe Russian authorities as “swindlers and thieves”.
Following Telegram’s refusal to comply with the court order, the Russian telecommunications regulator has begun to block millions of IP addresses in the country in an attempt to censor it.
Servers operated by Google and Amazon which supported Telegram have also been blocked, severely impacting businesses and ordinary Russians and prompting some speculation that the nation was under a cyber-attack.
The Russian Embassy in London did not respond to Sky News’ enquiries regarding the attempts to block Telegram and the difficulties the country’s domestic internet was experiencing.
“Your energy is changing the world,” Telegram’s 31-year-old founder, Pavel Durov, told supporters on VKontakte – the Russian version of Facebook.
Mr Durov said Russians had a “historic chance” to prevent the complete censorship of the internet in Russia.
“Russia is at a crossroads; full-scale censorship has not been introduced yet. Without action Russia will lose Telegram and other popular services.”
Telegram is a popular messaging app in countries which are suspicious of technologies which originate in the US, although independent cryptography experts have expressed concerns about its ability to protect users’ messages.
Telegram was also banned in Russian-ally Iran on Monday, according to the country’s state television and news agency affiliated with its judiciary.
Telegram and photo-sharing app Instagram were blocked in the country shortly after New Year’s Eve as people protested against the clerical regime.
The court order claimed that Telegram was being used to organise anti-establishment protests and had become a “safe place for committing crimes”.