Iran cuts off social media, internet services as President Raisi addresses the UN amid widespread protests

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Iranians were cut off from Instagram, WhatsApp, and other internet services 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, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, 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.

FILE: Protesters chant slogans during a protest over the death of a woman who was detained by the morality police, in downtown Tehran, Iran.

FILE: Protesters chant slogans during a protest over the death of a woman who was detained by the morality police, in downtown Tehran, Iran.
(AP Photo)

Police say Amini died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family has cast doubt on that account, saying she had no previous heart issues and that they were prevented from seeing her body.

The UN human rights office says the morality police have stepped up operations in recent months and resorted to more violent methods, including slapping women, beating them with batons and shoving them into police vehicles.

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Protests continued for a fifth day on Wednesday, as demonstrators clashed with police and called for the downfall of the Islamic Republic. In the capital Tehran, police fired tear gas at protesters who chanted “death to the dictator,” 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 are “violently crushing largely peaceful protests sparked by” Amini’s death and that at least eight people had died and hundreds have been injured.

NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet access, had earlier reported widespread disruptions to 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 their 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 their right to be online will be reinstated quickly.”

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Earlier on Wednesday, Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour was quoted by state media as saying that certain restrictions might be imposed “due to security issues,” without elaborating.

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

FILE: President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept.  21, 2022.

FILE: President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
(AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

President Biden, who spoke at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, voiced support for the protesters, saying “we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran, who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”

Raisi, who also spoke at the UN General Assembly, has called for an investigation into Amini’s death.

Iran has grappled with waves of protests in recent years, mainly over a long-running economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions linked to its nuclear program.

The Biden administration and European allies have been working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but the talks have been deadlocked for months.

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In his speech at the UN, Raisi said Iran is committed to reviving the nuclear agreement but questioned whether it could trust America’s commitment to any agreement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.