As unrest grows, Iran restricts access to Instagram, WhatsApp

:Iran on Wednesday restricted access to Meta Platforms’ Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the country’s last remaining social networks, amid protests over the death of a woman in police custody, local residents and internet watchdog NetBlocks said.

The death last week of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by Tehran’s morality police for “inappropriate dress”, has unleashed fury over issues such as freedom in the Islamic Republic and a sanctions-battered economy.

NetBlocks also reported a “nationwide loss of connectivity” at Iran Post’s mobile phone operator and another company’s network.

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WhatsApp’s servers were disrupted at several ISPs hours after Instagram’s services were blocked, London-based NetBlocks said.

The group’s data shows a near-total disruption to internet service in parts of western Iran’s Kurdistan province since Monday, while the capital Tehran and other parts of the country have also faced disruptions since Friday, when protests first erupted.

Two residents in Tehran and southern Iran said they can only send text and no pictures on WhatsApp, and Instagram appears to be completely blocked.

Iran has often restricted internet access to make it difficult for protesters to post videos on social media to generate support and get reliable reports on the extent of the unrest.

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In 2019, the government shut down the internet for about a week to help stifle protests, which turned political and sparked the bloodiest crackdown in the Islamic Republic’s 40-year history.

The protests have been particularly intense in Kurdistan, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have a history of suppressing riots.

Iran’s communications minister earlier Wednesday said he had been misquoted after news outlets quoted him as saying authorities could disrupt internet services for security reasons.

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Social media sites like TikTok, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are routinely blocked in parts of the Islamic Republic, which has some of the strictest internet controls in the world. But tech-savvy residents bypass curbs with virtual private networks (VPNs).

Meta and the Iranian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Akash Sriram in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Shinjini Ganguli, Anil D’Silva and Jonathan Oatis)

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