Iran clamps down on civil unrest by blocking internet services

2 Jan 2018

Iran flag during march in 2013. Image: Sergey Kohl/Shutterstock

Iran’s government is clamping down on dissent by cutting off its people’s access to a range of online services, including Instagram and Telegram.

Thousands of people in Iran have taken to the streets to protest the government’s handling of the economy, but also its policies involving suppression of free speech in what is one of the biggest mass protests in the country for a decade.

Now, a number of reports confirm that the Iranian government has reacted by restricting the ability for many protesters to get their message across by shutting out access to parts of the internet.

On 31 December, Engadget revealed that access to both Instagram and Telegram were blocked in the country as state officials denied that the government was engaged in censorship, but rather was acting to “maintain peace”.

They added that the removal of access to these services was temporary, but will remain for as long as they deem there to be a threat to the state.

There are also multiple reports indicating that the country has expanded the clampdown on online communication to include the periodic blocking of access to all mobile data in several Iranian cities.

According to Al Arabiya, among the affected mobile network providers is Hamrahe Aval, the primary telecoms company of state-backed group Mobile Telecommunication Company of Iran.

Confusion remains around the true extent of the clampdown as some students in the country have reported uninterrupted access on desktop computers, including messaging service Telegram.

Speaking on 1 January, Iranian internet freedom advocate Mahsa Alimardani said: “How nervous the government is about losing control over the population is proportional to various control tactics they implement over the internet.

“In the past few hours, there are also some reports of home connections (up until today mostly left undisturbed) also facing some blocks to accessing foreign web content.”

This isn’t the first time that internet censorship has been an issue in Iran as similar blocks were placed on online services in 2009 following protests against the government.

These actions resulted in the proliferation of VPN services in Iran, which offer a defence against online censorship.

Iran flag during march in 2013. Image: Sergey Kohl/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic