Iran closes mobile networks, Instagram, WhatsApp amid protests

Officials in Iran appear to be limiting access to mobile networks and communication platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp amid widespread protests over the alleged police killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Several internet access watchdogs have reported nationwide outages for people using MCI (First Mobile), Iran’s leading mobile operator, and Rightel, as well as partial outages for Irancell, as well as banning Instagram and WhatsApp.

Amini, who was also called Jhina, whose name was Kurdish, died last Friday while in the custody of the Islamic Republic’s moral police after being detained for what authorities described as an improper hijab. Since then, protests have spread across much of the country and seven protesters were killed on Wednesday, according to human rights organizations.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communications in Iran did not respond to requests for comment. Reuters reported Wednesday that the communications minister said he was misquoted by local media when he suggested the government might restrict internet access.

NetBlocks, an organization that tracks internet outages around the world, said WhatsApp servers were down Wednesday across multiple internet providers just hours after Instagram was blocked.

Alp Toker, director of NetBlocks, told The Record that he has been following a rapid escalation of restrictions on the internet since Friday, as unrest escalated to Amini’s death. There have been internet blackouts in Kurdistan province since Monday, and parts of the capital Tehran have also been shut down.

Toker said there was a near-total blackout in connectivity near his hometown in the province of Iranian Kurdistan, where his funeral was held and where protests were concentrated.

“Perhaps the most surprising is the restriction of Instagram today: Iran has already banned other platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for several years, with Instagram being a notable exception and one of the few means of expression left,” Toker said.

“It’s gone now, with NetBlocks metrics showing Instagram’s CDN [content delivery network] backends and website are down in all major network operators, indicative of filtering at the Iranian national gateway. This will grab the attention of the public, especially with a disgruntled younger generation talking. “

A chart showing all internet providers in Iran blocking access to WhatsApp. (Network locks)

While many in Iran have typically circumvented bans on platforms like Twitter and Facebook through the use of tools like virtual private networks (VPNs), the kind of internet outages instituted on Wednesday affects connectivity “at the network level and generally not. it can be circumvented with the use of circumvention software or VPNs, “NetBlocks said.

As protests over the situation rise, platforms like Instagram and Twitter have become key meeting points for protesters, with dozens of videos of women burning hijabs going viral.

An April report by the internet access nonprofit Access Now found that Iran shut down internet access at least five times in 2021, the second most monitored country.

Meanwhile, hackers associated with the Anonymous group on Wednesday morning claimed they were behind the attacks on several Iranian government-affiliated websites, in solidarity with the protesters.

Jonathan has worked as a journalist around the world since 2014. Before returning to New York, he worked for news organizations in South Africa, Jordan and Cambodia. Previously, he worked on cybersecurity at ZDNet and TechRepublic.

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