Access to Instagram and WhatsApp has been blocked as protests continue over the death of a woman in police custody in Iran.
At the same time, there have been severe internet outages across the country and disruption to cell phone service.
Last week, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by the country’s ethics police for being “inappropriately dressed” – she was believed to be wearing an inappropriate hijab. Authorities have denied any wrongdoing, claiming she suffered sudden heart failure. Since then, however, there has been a wave of protests across the country, with at least eight people reportedly killed.
Now, according to Data from NetBlockAuthorities have since hit back with a series of internet restrictions — the most severe since the November 2019 massacre that killed more than 300 people, the company said.
Twitter and Facebook have long been banned in Iran. However, Instagram and WhatsApp are now blocked by all users registered with Iran +98 phone numbers by all major network operators. Meanwhile, mobile networks including MCI, Rightel and Irancell have largely shut down.
“Users have also reported disruptions or severe slowdowns in internet service in multiple cities since the first outage on Friday, September 16, 2022,” NetBlocks said.
“A network outage could severely limit the public’s ability to express political grievances and communicate freely.”
Because the traffic has been interrupted at the network layer, it is often impossible to bypass the block by using circumvention software or a virtual private network (VPN).
Iran is one of the worst offenders in the world when it comes to internet shutdowns, blocking internet access at least five times during 2021.
In a joint statement, groups including Visit Now, PEN America and Reporters Without Borders called on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to demand that Iran reverse its actions.
“We also call on the Iranian government to develop policies, practices and legislation that are consistent with international human rights law, recognize the fundamental role played by the Internet in the exercise of human rights, and prevent shutdowns,” they wrote.
“In the past, the Iranian government has demonstrated a similar pattern of preferential treatment and graded access, where institutions including banks, news organizations, police stations, and government offices remain connected to the internet, while ordinary Iranians using the same ISPs for the internet are disconnected Connectivity. The authorities must do everything in their power to ensure that everyone in Iran has access to the internet.”
The shutdown comes as pro-government sites have suffered their own disruption. The Hactivist group Anonymous said it carried out attacks on two government websites and Iran’s state television channel, among others.
“The Iranian people are not alone. Anonymous will not keep the Iranian government alive on the internet as long as they fight the dictatorship and murderous police,” it said in an article Video statement.
“You censored your people’s social media and other communications to suppress your knowledge of their crimes. Anonymity will now shut you down and your own people will free you from power.”