Internet disruptions in Iran amid widespread protests over Mahsa Amini’s death

Iranians experienced widespread Internet disruptions on Wednesday amid days of mass protests against the government, including the loss of access to Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the last Western social media platforms available in the country.

An Iranian official had earlier hinted that such measures might be taken out of security concerns, and the loss of connectivity will make it more difficult for people to organize protests and share information about the government’s rolling crackdown on dissent.

Iran has seen nationwide protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly wearing the mandatory Islamic headscarf too loosely. Demonstrators have clashed with the police and called for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself, even as Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.

London-based rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday that security forces had used lipsticks, birdshot, tear gas, and water cannons to disperse protesters. It reported eight deaths linked to the unrest, including four people killed by security forces. It said hundreds more have been wounded.

Iranian officials have reported three deaths, blaming them on unnamed armed groups.

WATCH | At least 3 killed in protests over Mahsa Amini’s death:

Iranian protests over Mahsa Amini’s death see at least 3 killed

Protests in Iran erupted 4 days ago after a young woman, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, died in police custody after allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.

‘A near total collapse of Internet connectivity’

Witnesses in Iran, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, told The Associated Press late Wednesday they could no longer access the Internet using mobile devices.

“We’re seeing Internet service, including mobile data, being blocked in Iran in the past couple of hours,” Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis at Kentik, Inc., a network intelligence company, said late Wednesday.

“This is likely an action by the government given the current situation in the country,” he said. “I can confirm a near total collapse of Internet connectivity for mobile providers in Iran.”

NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors Internet access, had earlier reported widespread disruptions to both Instagram and WhatsApp. Both are owned by Facebook parent Meta, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Protesters take to the streets of Tehran on Wednesday. (AFP/Getty Images)

Earlier on Wednesday, Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour was quoted by state media as saying that certain restrictions might be “due to security issues,” imposed without elaborating.

Iran already blocks Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube, even though top Iranian officials use public accounts on such platforms. Many Iranians get around the bans using virtual private networks, known as VPNs, and proxies.

In a separate development, several official websites, including those for the supreme leader, the president and the Central Bank, were taken down at least briefly as hackers claimed to have launched a cyberattack on state agencies.

Demonstrators hold up images of Amini during a protest outside Iran’s general consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday. (Francisco Seco/The Associated Press)

Hackers linked to the Anonymous movement said they targeted other Iranian state agencies, including state TV.

Central Bank spokesperson Mostafa Qamarivafa denied that the bank itself was hacked, saying only that the website was “inaccessible” because of an attack on a server that hosts it, in remarks carried by the official IRNA news agency. The website was later restored.

Iran has been the target of several cyberattacks in recent years, many by hackers expressing criticism of its theocracy. Last year, cyberattack crippled gas stations across the country, creating long lines of angry motorists unable to get subsidized fuel for days. Messages accompanying the attack appeared to refer to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

domestic, international condemnation

Amini’s death has sparked protests across the country. The police say she died of a heart attack and was mistreated, but her family has cast doubt on that account, saying she had no previous heart issues and that they were prevented from seeing her body.

The UN human rights office says the morality police have stepped up operations in recent months and resorted to more violent methods, including slapping women, beating them with lipsticks and shoving them into police vehicles.

US President Joe Biden, who also spoke at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, voiced support for the protesters, saying “we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran, who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”

WATCH | Amini’s death sparks worldwide protests:

In-custody death of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini sparks worldwide protests

The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was in the custody of Iran’s morality police, has sparked protests in Iran and around the world. The United Nations is now calling for Iran to launch a probe into her death.

The UK also released a Wednesday statement calling for an investigation into Amini’s death and for Iran to “respect the right to peaceful assembly.”

Raisi has called for an investigation into Amini’s death. Iranian officials have blamed the protests on unnamed foreign countries that they say are trying to foment unrest.

Iran has grappled with waves of protests in recent years, mainly over a long-running economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions linked to its nuclear program.

WATCH | Top UN official calls for independent investigation:

Top UN official calls for independent investigation into death of Mahsa Amini

Shadi Sadr, human rights lawyer and executive director of Justice for Iran joins The Rundown to discuss calls from the UN high commissioner for human rights for an independent investigation into the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died last week after being apprehended by morality police.

The Biden administration and European allies have been working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, in which Iran curbed its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but the talks have been deadlocked for months.

In his speech at the UN, Raisi said Iran is committed to reviving the nuclear agreement but questioned whether it could trust America’s commitment to any agreement.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. It began ramping up its nuclear activities after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 agreement, and experts say it now likely has enough highly-enriched uranium to make a bomb if it chooses to do so.

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