Iran blocks access to Instagram and WhatsApp and imposes restrictions on the internet as the death toll from days-long demonstrations rises to 17, with security personnel among those killed.

The protests come at a particularly sensitive time for the leadership, as the Iranian economy remains mired in a crisis largely caused by sanctions over its nuclear programme.
The protests come at a particularly sensitive time for the leadership, as the Iranian economy remains mired in a crisis largely caused by sanctions over its nuclear programme. (WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters)

Iran has restricted internet access after days of protests that have claimed at least 17 lives, following the death of a young woman in the custody of the so-called morality police.

However, the Oslo-based non-government group Iran Human Rights said on Thursday that at least 31 civilians had been killed in a crackdown by the Iranian security forces in six nights of violence.

Among those killed in clashes have been police and militia officers, state TV reported, while overseas-based human rights groups reported many more deaths, which could not be independently verified.

Iranian officials had previously confirmed the deaths of six demonstrators, with at least four having died in Kurdistan, the home province of Mahsa Amini, the young woman whose death last week triggered the protests, and two in Kermanshah, another province with a large Kurdish community. 

While protests erupted in Kurdistan province, they have since spread across the country. Protesters in Tehran and other Iranian cities torched police stations and vehicles on Thursday as the unrest intensified.

The Iranian authorities have denied any involvement in the deaths of protesters.

READ MORE: Iranian police call woman's custody death 'unfortunate' as protests erupt

Revolutionary Guard responds

Iran's Revolutionary Guard called on the the judiciary to prosecute "those who spread false news and rumours" about Amini's death. In a statement, the Guard expressed sympathy with the family and relatives of Amini.

"We have requested the judiciary to identify those who spread false news and rumours on social media as well as on the street and who endanger the psychological safety of society and to deal with them decisively," the Guard, who have cracked down on protests in the past, said.

Pro-government protests are planned for Friday, Iranian media said.

Internet restrictions

Amini, 22, died last week after being arrested in Tehran for wearing “unsuitable attire”. She fell into a coma while in detention. The authorities have said they would launch an investigation into the cause of her death.

The incident unleashed huge anger in the population and the worst protests in Iran since 2019. Protests have spread to the capital and at least 50 cities and towns nationwide, with police using force to disperse protesters.

With no sign of the protests easing, Iran blocked access to Instagram and WhatsApp and imposed drastic restrictions on internet access.

“In accordance with a decision by officials, it has no longer been possible to access Instagram in Iran since yesterday (Wednesday) evening and access to WhatsApp is also disrupted,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The two apps were the most widely used in Iran after the blocking of other platforms in recent years, including Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, YouTube and Tiktok.

Internet access in Iran is heavily restricted by government filters and only those with VPNs can access uncensored content from overseas websites.

READ MORE: Protests spread in Iran amid concerns over deadly crackdown

Source: TRTWorld and agencies