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Iranians cut off Instagram, WhatsApp and other internet services on Wednesday as protests rocked the country, sparked by the death of a woman in police custody.
The near-total internet blackout came as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Wednesday.
Ms. Mahsa Amini, 22, died last Friday while in police custody. She was detained by the country’s morality police for allegedly wearing the mandatory Islamic headscarf too loosely.
Police say Amini died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family disputed this account saying she had no previous heart problems and they were prevented from seeing her body.
The UN human rights office says the morality police have ramped up their operations in recent months and have resorted to more violent tactics, including slapping, hitting women with batons and pushing them into police cars.
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Protests continued for a fifth day on Wednesday, with demonstrators clashing with police and calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. In the capital, Tehran, police fired tear gas at protesters who chanted “Death to the dictator” and “I will kill whoever killed my sister,” according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
London-based Amnesty International said security forces were “violently suppressing the largely peaceful protests sparked” by Amini’s death and that at least eight people were killed and hundreds injured.
NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet access, previously reported widespread disruptions to both Instagram and WhatsApp.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook, which owns both platforms, told Fox News that it “recognizes that people in Iran are deprived of internet services.”
“Iranians are using apps like Instagram to stay close to their loved ones, access important information in a timely manner and stay connected with the rest of the world,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We hope that their right to internet will be restored quickly.”
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Earlier on Wednesday, state media quoted Iran’s Communications Minister Issa Zaribour as saying that certain restrictions might 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 avoid bans by using virtual private networks, known as VPNs, and proxies.
President Biden, who spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, expressed his support for the protesters, saying, “We stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran, who are now demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”
Raisi, who also spoke at the United Nations General Assembly, called for an investigation into Amini’s death.
Iran has faced waves of protests in recent years, particularly due to a protracted economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions linked to its nuclear program.
The Biden administration and its European allies are working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but talks have been deadlocked for months.
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In his speech at the United Nations, Raisi said Iran was committed to reviving the nuclear deal, but questioned whether it could trust America’s commitment to any agreement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.