Internet disrupted in Iran amid protests over death of Mahsa Amini

Network data from NetBlocks confirm a near-total disruption disruption to internet service in parts of Kurdistan province in west Iran from the evening of Monday 19 September 2022. The regional telecommunications blackout in and around Sanandaj follows a partial disruption to internet service in Tehran and other parts of the country on Friday when protests first broke out. Instagram and WhatsApp, two of the last remaining international platforms in Iran, have subsequently been restricted nationally as of Wednesday 21 September, followed by a nation-scale shutdown of mobile networks.

Despite temporary restorations of mobile internet service since Thursday morning, online platforms have remained restricted and connectivity is intermittent for many users. Daily curfew-style mobile internet disruptions have continued until 4 October 2022.

The incidents come amid widening protests against the government after the death of Mahsa Amini from Saqqez in Kurdistan province after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating Iran’s strict hijab headscarf rules.

Observable connectivity was restored some 3.5 hours after the disruption came into place in Iran’s Kurdistan region, amid reports of at least four protesters killed by authorities. Users have also reported the disconnection or severe slowing of internet service in multiple cities since the first disruption was registered on Friday 16 September 2022.

This class of internet disruption affects connectivity at the network layer and cannot generally be worked around with the use of circumvention software or VPNs.

On Wednesday 21 September 2022, access to Instagram and WhatsApp, some of the last remaining international social media and messaging platforms in Iran, was restricted across all major internet providers. Other platforms such as Twitter, Facebook have already been banned for several years:

Access to messaging app WhatsApp was restricted across multiple internet providers shortly after Instagram:

These online communication platform restrictions are in place nationally and have been extended to cover LinkedIn and Skype in the following days.

Mobile networks including MCI, Iran’s leading cellular operator, were subsequently disrupted leaving many internet users completely offline in a country that is highly dependent on mobile service:

These mobile disruptions have continued daily in a curfew-style rolling manner through to Friday, while the platform restrictions have remained in place throughout:

On Monday 26 September, Internet connectivity was disrupted at Iran’s elite Amirkabir University amid reports that students had gone on strike over the death of Mahsa Amini. Meanwhile, the previously observed pattern of nation-scale mobile internet disruptions and social media restrictions continued:

On the evening of Tuesday 27 September 2022, a major anomaly was identified on Iran’s backbone internet provider TCI, which is responsible for the nation’s telecommunication affairs. Users reported the loss of service even when using VPN services that can sometimes work around government filtering measures. Metrics show a significant collapse in connectivity as compared to predicted levels for the time and day in question:

On Friday 30 September 2022, a major regional telecoms disruption was registered in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchestan Province, amid deadly clashes with security forces that left several dead as well as the torching of police bases, in what many saw as an escalation in the intensity of protests and government crackdown:

Hours later on Friday, an additional regional network blackout was imposed in Kurdistan Province, the birthplace of Mahsa Amini and a flashpoint for protests, with the capital Sanandaj and nearby cities sent fully offline:

The network disruptions are likely to severely limit the public’s ability to express political discontent and communicate freely. NetBlocks recommends against the use of network disruptions to counter protests, given their disproportionate impact to fundamental rights including freedom of expression and freedom assembly.

Recent internet shutdowns and disruptions in Iran

Iran has faced a series of network disruptions in recent years, with some attributed to external factors, and others to state information controls or targeted internet shutdowns. NetBlocks investigations have helped identify the root causes of these network outages.

Notably, in November 2019 Iran shut down internet access nationally amid widespread public protests that were met with deadly force by authorities. In that instance, users gradually regained access as connectivity was selectively brought back after a week of near-total outages.

Further reading:

Instagram was restricted across Iran on the evening of Wednesday 21 September 2022
WhatsApp was restricted across Iran on the evening of Wednesday 21 September 2022, shortly after the restriction of Instagram


Methodology

NetBlocks diffscans, which map the IP address space of a country in real time, show internet connectivity levels and corresponding outages. Purposeful internet outages may have a distinct network pattern used by NetBlocks to determine and attribute the root cause of an outage, a process known as attribution which follows detection and classification stages.

Internet performance and service reachability are determined via NetBlocks web probe privacy-preserving analytics. Each measurement consists of latency round trip time, outage type and autonomous system number aggregated in real-time to assess service availability and latency in a given country. Network providers and locations are enumerated as vantage point pairs. The root cause of a service outage may be additionally corroborated by means of traffic analysis and manual testing as detailed in the report.


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