DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Iranians experienced a near-total internet blackout on Wednesday amid days of mass protests against the government over the death of a woman held by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating her Strictly enforced dress code.
An Iranian official had earlier hinted that such measures could be taken out of security concerns. Loss of connectivity will make it harder for people to organize protests and share information about the government’s ongoing crackdown on dissent.
Iran has seen nationwide protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly wearing the obligatory Islamic headscarf too loosely. Demonstrators clashed with police and called for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself, even as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.
The protests continued for a fifth day on Wednesday, including in the capital, Tehran. Police then fired tear gas at protesters who chanted “death to the dictator,” and “I will kill whoever killed my sister,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
London-based rights group Amnesty International said security forces used batons, birdshot, tear gas, and water cannons to disperse protesters. It reported eight deaths related to the unrest, including four killed by security forces. He said hundreds more were injured.
Iranian officials have reported three deaths, blaming unnamed armed groups.
Witnesses in Iran, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said late Wednesday that they were no longer able to access the internet using mobile devices.
“We’ve been seeing internet service, including mobile data, being blocked in Iran for the past few hours,” Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Kentik, Inc., a network intelligence company, said late Wednesday.
“This is probably an action by the government given the current situation in the country,” he said.
NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet access, reported widespread disruption to both Instagram and WhatsApp.
Facebook’s parent company Meta, which owns both platforms, said it was aware the Iranians were being denied access to internet services. “We hope that their online rights will be restored quickly,” he said in a statement.
Earlier on Wednesday, state media quoted Iran’s Telecommunications Minister, Isa Zarepour, as saying that certain restrictions could be imposed “due to security issues,” without elaborating.
Iran already blocks Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube, although 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, at least several official websites, including those for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the presidency and the Central Bank, were taken down as hackers claimed to have launched a cyber attack on state agencies.
Hackers linked to the shadowy Anonymous movement said they had targeted other state agencies in Iran, including state television.
Central Bank spokesman Mostafa Qamarivafa denied the bank itself had been hacked, saying the website was “inaccessible” due to an attack on a server that hosts it, in statements carried by the official IRNA news agency . The website was later restored.
Iran has been the target of several cyberattacks in recent years, and many hackers have criticized its legitimacy. Last year, a cyber attack hit gas stations across the country, creating long lines of angry drivers unable to get subsidized fuel for days. The messages accompanying the attack appeared to refer to the supreme leader.
Amini’s death sparked protests across the country. Police say she died of a heart attack and was not abused, but her family has cast doubt on that account, saying she had no previous heart problems and was unable to identify her body. see.
In a phone interview with BBC Persian on Wednesday, her father, Amjad Amini, accused the authorities of lying about her death. Every time he was asked how she died, he thought, the line was mysteriously cut.
The UN’s human rights office says the morality police have stepped up their operations in recent months and resorted to more violent methods, including beating, battering and beating women. push into police vehicles.
President Joe Biden, who also spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, supported the protesters, saying “we stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran, who are now demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”
The UK also issued a statement on Wednesday calling for an investigation into Amini’s death and for Iran to “respect the right to peaceful assembly”.
Raisi 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 faced waves of protests in recent years, largely due to an economic crisis that has long been exacerbated by Western sanctions related to its nuclear program.
The Biden administration and European allies have been working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Iran curbed its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but talks have been dead for several months.
In his speech at the United Nations, Raisi said Iran is committed to reviving the nuclear deal but asked if he could trust America’s commitment to any deal.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. It began ramping up its nuclear activities after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 accord, and experts say it likely now has enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb if it chooses to do so.