Iran is currently seeing the worst protests since the 2019 turmoil over the rise in gasoline prices. At first, protests were smaller in scope and mostly limited to Kurdish-populated north-western regions, but these demonstrations recently spread to the capital city of Tehran after the death of an Iranian woman while in police custody.
Even though there seems to be a building resentment against the Iranian government and police, these latest protests are sparked by Iran’s treatment of women, particularly the strict dress code that’s enforced on Iranian women. Most of the focus is directed at the hijab.
Due to an increase in civil unrest, the Iranian government is trying to shut down internet access and to block the already limited number of social and communication platforms in the country. Rumors are spreading that tech giant Meta is also involved in removing videos and posts about the protest on Facebook and Instagram. On top of that, Iranians are now struggling to access both Instagram and WhatsApp.
If true, this paints a bleak picture for Iranians, but also for digital freedom of speech the world over.
Mahsa Amini’s Death Lights a Fire Underneath the Hijab in Iran
The Iranian regime’s “Guidance Patrol” arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the entry of Haqqani Highway on Tuesday, September 13, to undergo a briefing class for “not wearing her hijab correctly.”
The morality police released (reportedly edited) video footage where Amini apparently collapsed at the detention center after arriving. She was rushed to Kasra Hospital in Tehran where she died after two days in a coma. Eye witnesses claim Amini was severely beaten by her arresting officers, while Iranian officials deny accusations of mistreatment and claim she had suffered a heart attack.
A London-based Iranian news outlet acquired Amini’s CT scans and accounts from her doctors, all of which indicate she had suffered severe trauma to the skull, causing a skull fracture on the right side of her head along with a hemorrhage and brain edema. This news fueled a renewed anger among the general public across Iran, causing massive protests against the law on hijabs and the morality police.
Among clashes with police, protesters were seen taking off and burning their hijabs — actions that would have been almost unimaginable just a week ago. Some of these protests have also turned violent, with some protesters caught setting a police station and police vehicles on fire.
The Iranian Regime Retaliates, Internet Freedom Under Fire
Iran’s government is known for keeping tight control over internet access and digital communication in the country. Even before the recent wave of protests, Iran had been censoring content and blocking various social platforms within the country, including Telegram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Many Iranian citizens have successfully used VPNs in the past to navigate these blocks and retain communication with the outside world.
As pressure from the populace increases, police have responded with water guns, baton charges, and teargas. Although videos showing the escalating tensions seem to be taken down almost as quickly as they’re posted. Videos on Facebook and Instagram are quickly removed, all the while internet in Iran has slowed to a crawl, making it near impossible to use.
People have started calling out Meta for censoring news about the protests in Iran. Meta has apparently responded by calling it a technical issue, among which is caused by its automatic takedown algorithm that removes violent content. According to the company, some videos were also removed for violating its content policies.
Rumors also keep circulating that Meta is blocking its own services, specifically Instagram and WhatsApp, in Iran — which are some of the only remaining platforms available in the country. This doesn’t just affect those wanting to protest either. Instagram plays an especially important role for many Iranians, as about one-eighth of the population use the social network to earn a steady income.
The Iranian government has also severely restricted WhatsApp within its borders. While that’s concerning on its own, Iranian activists and other WhatsApp users abroad have reportedly claimed their access to WhatsApp was also disrupted. This led many to question whether Meta was collaborating with the Iranian government to limit the spread of information. Meta has denied any involvement.
Digital Freedom is Under Attack
Whether the Meta rumors are true or not, what’s clear is that Iranian authorities are currently trying to suppress citizens’ freedom of speech and limit access to news about the protests. Unfortunately, it’s extremely easy for a regime to control their citizens’ digital access to information.
Meta is one of the largest social media conglomerates in the world and effectively controls what information billions of people around the world see. While it’s nearly impossible for the average citizen to do anything about that, it is possible to ensure you retain your freedom of access to the internet with a VPN.
CyberGhost VPN will always stand against limiting access to the web, which has turned into a crucial resource in modern times. We back that up by providing our users with the anonymity they need via our strong encryption protocols, no nonsense No Logs policy, and secure servers across the world.