Iranians see widespread internet blackout amid mass protests

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Iranians experienced a near-total internet blackout Wednesday amid days of mass anti-government protests over the death of a woman held by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating her strict dress code.

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 governments cracking down on dissent.

Iran has seen nationwide protests for the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, arrested for wearing the obligatory Islamic veil too loosely. Protesters clashed with police and called for the fall of the Islamic Republic itself, just as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.

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Protests continued for a fifth day on Wednesday, including in the capital, Tehran. Police fired tear gas at protesters cheering the dictator’s death, and I will kill the one who killed my sister, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

London-based rights group Amnesty International said security forces used batons, bird droppings, tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters. It reported eight deaths related to the unrest, including four people killed by security forces. He said hundreds more were injured.

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

Witnesses in Iran, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals, said on Wednesday they could no longer access the internet using mobile devices.

We’ve seen Internet service, including mobile data, go down in Iran over the past two hours, said Doug Madory, director of Internet analytics at Kentik, Inc., a network intelligence firm.

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

NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet access, had previously reported widespread outages 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 is restored quickly, a statement read.

Iran’s telecommunications minister Isa Zarepour was quoted by state media on Wednesday as saying some restrictions may be imposed due to security concerns, without elaborating.

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

In a separate development, several official websites, including those of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the presidency and the central bank, were taken down at least briefly as the hackers said they launched a cyberattack on state agencies.

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

Central bank spokesman Mostafa Qamarivafa denied that the bank itself was hacked, saying only that the website was inaccessible due to an attack on a server hosting it, in remarks reported 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 who have expressed criticism of its theocracy. Last year, a cyber attack 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 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 questioned this, saying she had no previous heart problems and they were prevented from seeing her body .

In a telephone interview with BBC Persian on Wednesday his father, Amjad Amini, accused authorities of lying about his death. Every time he’s been asked how he thinks she’s dead, the line has mysteriously cut.

The UN human rights office says the morality police have stepped up operations in recent months and have resorted to more violent methodsincluding slapping women, beatings with batons and pushing into police vehicles.

President Joe Biden, who also spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, expressed support for the protesters, saying we stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran, who are demonstrating right now to ensure their fundamental rights.

The UK also issued a statement on Wednesday calling for an investigation into Amini’s death and asking Iran to respect the right of peaceful assembly.

Raisi called for an investigation into Amini’s death. Iranian officials have blamed the protests on unnamed foreign countries, which they say are trying to stir up unrest.

Iran struggled with waves of protests in recent yearsmainly due to a long-standing economic crisis 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 a reduction in sanctions, but talks have stalled for months.

In his UN speech, Raisi said Iran is 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 probably has enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb if it chooses to.

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