Instagram disrupted across Iran amid protests

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iranians saw their access to Instagram, one of the few Western social media platforms still available in the country, cut Wednesday after days of mass protests over the death of a woman detained by morality police. was interrupted.

NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet access, reported widespread disruptions. Witnesses in Iran, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said they were unable to log in via cell phones or home connections.

They also reported that they could not access the WhatsApp messaging service over Iranian cellular networks, although the service was still available over Wi-Fi. The extent of this outage was not immediately clear.

Disrupting these services would limit protesters’ ability to organize and share information. Both services are owned by Facebook parent Meta, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Iranian authorities. But earlier Wednesday, Iranian Telecoms Minister Isa Zarepour was quoted by state media as saying certain restrictions could be imposed “for security reasons,” without elaborating.

Iran already blocks Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube, although senior Iranian officials use public accounts on such platforms. Many Iranians circumvent the bans with virtual private networks, so-called VPNs, and proxies.

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In another development, several official websites, including those of the supreme leader, the president and the central bank, were shut down, at least briefly, as hackers claimed to have launched a cyberattack on state agencies.

The apparent cyberattack came amid days of protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly wearing the mandatory Islamic headscarf too loosely. It was also hours before Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the United Nations General Assembly.

Hackers linked to the shadowy Anonymous movement said they targeted other Iranian state agencies, including state television and the Office of the President’s Spokesman.

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, according to comments from the official IRNA news agency called. The site was later restored.

Amini’s death has sparked protests across the country, with many demonstrators clashed with police and chanted against the Islamic Republic itself.

Police say she died of a heart attack and was not abused, but her family have cast doubt on that statement, saying she had no previous heart problems and that they were prevented from seeing her body.

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The UN Human Rights Office says morality police have stepped up operations in recent months, resorting to more violent methods, including slapping women, hitting them with batons and pushing them into police vehicles.

President Joe Biden, who also addressed the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, spoke out in support of the protesters, saying, “We stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran who are demonstrating right now to secure their fundamental rights.”

The UK also released a statement on Wednesday calling for an investigation into Amini’s death and urging Iran to “respect the right to peaceful assembly”.

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

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made no mention of the protests at a meeting Wednesday with veterans of the 1980s Iran-Iraq War.

Iran has been the target of several cyberattacks in recent years, many by hackers who have voiced criticism of its theocracy.

In February, dissident hackers placed an anti-government message on a website that streams state television programs. Last year, an online group released video footage from Iran’s notorious Evin prison, which they allegedly obtained through hacking.

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Later that year, a cyberattack shut down gas stations across the country, creating long lines of angry drivers who couldn’t get subsidized fuel for days. News accompanying the attack appeared to refer to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other attacks Iran has blamed on Israel have targeted its nuclear program and industrial sites.

Iran has also grappled with waves of protests in recent years, largely over a prolonged 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 restricted its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions lifting, but talks have been deadlocked for months.

Speaking to the United Nations, Raisi said Iran was determined to revive the nuclear deal, but questioned whether he could trust America’s commitment to a deal.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. It began expanding its nuclear activities after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 accord, and experts say it now likely has enough highly enriched uranium to build a bomb if it chooses to.

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