By The Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranians experienced a widespread internet blackout on Wednesday amid days of mass protests against the government, including loss of access to Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the last media platforms western social media available in the country.
An Iranian official had previously hinted that such measures could be taken for security reasons. The loss of connectivity will make it harder for people to organize protests and share information about the government’s continued crackdown on dissent.
Iran has seen nationwide protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly wearing the compulsory Islamic headscarf too loosely. Protesters clashed with police and called for the fall of the Islamic Republic itself, even as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.
London-based rights group Amnesty International said security forces used batons, birdshot, tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters. It reports eight deaths linked to the unrest, including four people killed by security forces. He said hundreds more were injured.
Iranian officials reported three deaths, blaming them on unnamed armed groups.
Witnesses in Iran, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, told The Associated Press on Wednesday evening that they could no longer access the internet using mobile devices.
“We see that internet services, including mobile data, have been blocked in Iran for the past two hours,” Doug Madory, director of internet analytics at Kentik, Inc., an intelligence firm, said Wednesday evening. on the networks.
“This is probably a government action given the current situation in the country,” he said. “I can confirm a near total collapse of internet connectivity for mobile phone providers in Iran.”
NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet access, previously reported widespread disruptions to both Instagram and WhatsApp.
Facebook’s parent company Meta, which owns both platforms, said it was aware that Iranians were being denied access to internet services. “We hope their right to be online will be quickly restored,” he said in a statement.
Earlier Wednesday, Iranian Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour was quoted by state media as saying that some restrictions could be imposed “due to security concerns”, without giving further details.
Iran already blocks Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube, although senior Iranian officials use public accounts on these platforms. Many Iranians circumvent the bans by using virtual private networks, called VPNs, and proxies.
Separately, several official websites, including those of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Presidency and the Central Bank, were taken down at least briefly as hackers claimed to have launched a cyberattack on government agencies. ‘State.
Hackers linked to the shadowy Anonymous movement said they targeted other Iranian state agencies, including state television.
Central Bank spokesman Mostafa Qamarivafa denied that the bank itself had been hacked, saying only that the website was “unreachable” due to an attack on a server that hosts it, in remarks made by the official IRNA news agency. The website was then restored.
Iran has been the target of several cyberattacks in recent years, many by hackers voicing criticism of its theocracy. Last year, a cyberattack crippled gas stations across the country, creating long lines of angry motorists unable to obtain subsidized fuel for days. 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 have cast doubt on that account, saying she had no previous heart problems and they are being treated. prevented from seeing his body.
The UN human rights office says morality police have stepped up their operations in recent months and resorted to more violent methods, including slapping women, beating them with batons and beating them. pushing into police vehicles.
President Joe Biden, who also spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, voiced his support for the protesters, saying “we stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran, who are protesting at this time. to guarantee their fundamental 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 has called for an inquest into Amini’s death. Iranian officials have blamed the protests on unnamed foreign countries they say are trying to foment unrest.
Iran has been grappling with waves of protests in recent years, mostly over a long-running economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions over its nuclear program.
The Biden administration and its European allies have been working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Iran limited its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but talks have stalled for years. month.
In his speech at the UN, Raisi said Iran was committed to reviving the nuclear deal, but questioned whether he could trust America’s commitment to any deal.
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 deal, and experts say it now likely has enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb if he chooses to do so.
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