Iran Restricts Access to Social Media to Control Protests 

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -
People protest near the university of Tehran, Iran Dec. 30. (Reuters)

Iran blocked access to some social media and messaging apps used by activists to organize and publicize the protests now roiling the Islamic Republic, as authorities said two demonstrators had been killed overnight in the first deaths attributed to the rallies.

The demonstrations, which began Thursday over the economic woes plaguing Iran and continued Sunday, appear to be the largest to strike the Islamic Republic since the protests that followed the country’s disputed 2009 presidential election.

They were fanned in part by messages sent on social media messaging apps, which authorities blocked Sunday.

Many in Iran are learning about the protests and sharing images of them through social media. On Saturday, Telegram shut down one channel on the service over Iranian allegations it encouraged violence, something its moderator denied.

Iran’s state news website, iribnews.ir, quoted an anonymous source saying that social media in Iran would be temporarily limited as a safety measure.

“With a decision by the Supreme National Security Council, activities of Telegram and Instagram are temporarily limited,” the report said, without elaborating.

Thousands have taken to the streets of cities across Iran, beginning on Thursday in Mashhad, the country’s second-largest city and a religious site for Shiite pilgrims.

The protests in the Iranian capital, as well as President Donald Trump tweeting about them, raised the stakes. It also apparently forced state media to break its silence on Saturday, acknowledging it hadn’t reported on the protests on orders from security officials.

Trump, whose travel bans blocked Iranians from getting U.S. visas, again tweeted about the protests Sunday.

“The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer,” Trump wrote. “The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”

At least 50 protesters have been arrested since Thursday, authorities said Saturday. State media said some protesters chanted the name of the U.S.-backed shah, who fled into exile just before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and later died.

On Sunday, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported that authorities have arrested some 80 protesters in the city of Arak, some 173 miles south of Tehran.

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 percent, 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.

Some analysts outside of Iran have suggested that may be because the economic protests initially just put pressure on the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate whose administration struck the nuclear deal.