As protests over economic instability and government censorship persist in Iran, the Hassan Rouhani government has reportedly wielded its favorite suppression tactic: blocking the internet.
Multiple reports say the government was blocking internet on mobile networks starting on Dec. 30, including social media services like Instagram and messaging services like Telegram, to try and stop the protesters from organizing and amplifying their message. This is the biggest anti-government public demonstration since 2009.
“How nervous the government is about losing control over the population is proportional to various control tactics they implement over the Internet,” said Mahsa Alimardani, who researches internet freedoms in Iran for Article 19 (and writes for Motherboard). “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.”
The extent of this blackout is not yet clear—Iranian students and others have reported that desktop versions of the Telegram system were still working, and internet research company Oracle detected DNS queries.
The situation only builds on Iran’s ongoing issues with internet censorship and control. During Iran’s elections earlier this year, young citizens were hoping the Rouhani administration would open up access to the internet, and Rouhani promised to increase internet speeds and cut down on censorship. But so far, the administration and the new internet minister have failed to deliver on those promises. Iranians have taken to using VPNs and building apps to bypass Iran’s erratic suppression of information. And some reportedly removed their network passwords during the protests to allow more people to access internet if the mobile networks were blocked. Meanwhile, internet suppression has become an increasingly dangerous and common government weapon across the world. The Democratic Republic of Congo cut mobile and web services ahead of protests just a few days ago, and Motherboard has reported on similar blackouts in Kashmir and Gabon.