Politics

Iran temporarily bans access to Telegram and Instagram

The Iranian government will temporarily suspend access to some social media and messaging apps to control protests, Iranian state television quoted an informed source as saying on Sunday.

The protests have been the biggest show of dissent since huge rallies in 2009.

They began in the north-east as an outcry against economic hardship and rising prices, but turned political in many places, with slogans chanted against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s interventionist foreign policy in the region.

After violence flared in many places on Saturday, there was little sign of further demonstrations on Sunday.

Why are these social networks being restricted?

In a tightly controlled media environment, much of the information about the demonstrations has emerged via social media, and platforms like Telegram and Instagram have been used extensively by protesters.

Telegram in particular is very popular in Iran, with more than 50% of the country’s 80m population said to be active on the app.

The company’s CEO Pavel Durov tweeted that Iranian authorities took action after his company refused to shut down “peacefully protesting channels”.

Communications Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi had earlier accused certain channels on the app of promoting “armed uprising and social unrest”, including the use of petrol bombs.

Where will the protests lead?

There is widespread and seething discontent in Iran where repression is pervasive and economic hardship is getting worse – one Persian investigation has found that on average Iranians have become 15% poorer in the past 10 years.

Protests have remained confined to relatively small pockets of mostly young male demonstrators who are demanding the overthrow of the clerical regime.

They have spread even to small towns throughout the country and have the potential to grow in size.

But there is no obvious leadership. Opposition figures have long been silenced or sent into exile.

Even in exile, there is no one opposition figure that commands a large following. Some protesters have been calling for the return of the monarchy and the former shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi, who lives in exile in the United States, has issued a statement supporting the demonstrations. But there are signs that he is as much in the dark about where these protests are going as anyone else.

BBC Persian, which broadcasts on TV, on radio and online from London, is banned in Iran – where staff and their families routinely face harassment and questioning from the authorities.

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