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Iranians were cut off from Instagram, WhatsApp and other internet services on Wednesday as protests, sparked by the death of a woman in police custody, rocked the country.
The near-total internet blackout came as Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the UN General Assembly in New York City on Wednesday.
The woman, Mahsa Amini, 22, died last Friday while in police custody. She was arrested by the country’s morality police for allegedly wearing the mandatory Islamic veil too loosely.
Police say Amini died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family have disputed that account, saying she had no previous heart problems and that they were prevented from seeing her body.
The UN human rights office says morality police have stepped up operations in recent months and resorted to more violent methods, including slapping women, beating them with batons and pushing them into police vehicles.
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The protests continued for a fifth day on Wednesday, as demonstrators clashed with police and called for the fall of the Islamic Republic. In the capital Tehran, police fired tear gas at protesters chanting “death to the dictator” and “I will kill the one who killed my sister,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said security forces were “violently suppressing largely peaceful protests sparked by” Amini’s death and that at least eight people had been killed and hundreds injured.
NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet access, had previously reported widespread outages on both Instagram and WhatsApp.
Facebook parent company Meta, which owns both platforms, told Fox News it is “aware that people in Iran are being cut off from internet services.”
“Iranians use apps like Instagram to stay close to loved ones, access timely and important information, and stay connected to the rest of the world,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We hope that your right to be online will be quickly restored.”
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Earlier on Wednesday, Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour was quoted by state media as saying that certain restrictions could be imposed “due to security concerns”, without elaborating.
Iran already blocks Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube, despite the fact that senior Iranian officials use public accounts on those platforms. Many Iranians get around the bans by using virtual private networks, known as VPNs, and proxies.
President Biden, speaking at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, expressed his support for the protesters, saying “we stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran, who are demonstrating right now to secure their basic rights. “.
Raisi, who was also speaking at the UN General Assembly, called for an investigation into Amini’s death.
Iran has dealt with waves of protests in recent years, mainly over a long-running economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions tied to its nuclear program.
The Biden administration and European allies have been working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief, but talks have been stalled for months.
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In his speech at the UN, Raisi said Iran is committed to reviving the nuclear deal, but questioned whether he could trust the US commitment to any deal.
Associated Press contributed to this report.