Amid protests, social media access restricted on Iran cellphones
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Amid protests, social media access restricted on Iran cellphones

Authorities says demonstrators were using encrypted messaging app Telegram to organize unrest; Instagram also limited

Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. (AFP/ STR)
Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. (AFP/ STR)

Access to the popular photo-sharing and messaging apps Instagram and Telegram was restricted on cellphones in Iran, media in the country reported on Sunday, after three days of protests in many cities.

Access to Telegram, an encrypted messaging platform that the government has accused of fomenting violence during the protests, was cut in the early afternoon, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency and other media.

The CEO of Telegram, Pavel Durov, confirmed on Twitter that the service had been blocked in the country.

State TV’s website cited an anonymous source who said the decision was “in line with maintaining peace and security of the citizens.” The source added, “With a decision by the Supreme National Security Council, activities of Telegram and Instagram are temporarily limited.”

Earlier, a third night of unrest in Iran saw mass demonstrations across the country in which two people were killed, dozens arrested and public buildings attacked.

Internet was temporarily cut on cellphones on Saturday night but restored not long after.

Videos on social media overnight showed demonstrations in Isfahan, Mashhad and many smaller cities, but travel restrictions and limited coverage by official media made it difficult to confirm reports.

Semi-official conservative outlets confirmed an evening attack on a town hall in Tehran and showed protesters attacking banks and municipal buildings in other parts of the country.

Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. (AFP/ STR)

The demonstrations are the biggest since the Green Movement protests of 2009 against the re-election of the ultra-conservative ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which were violently repressed.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, was set to make a special statement Sunday afternoon, apparently to address the protests.

The protests began over high living costs and the struggling economy before spreading quickly to other areas and turning against the Islamic regime as a whole.

The anti-government protests appear to have been propelled in large part by poorer sections of society, angry over high unemployment, soaring prices and financial scandals.

Iran’s economy has improved since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Western aircraft.

That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40%, which a government spokesman has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.

While the protests have sparked clashes, Iran’s hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election.

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