2 protesters killed in Iran as social media apps blocked
Tehran: Iran on Sunday blocked access to Instagram and a popular messaging app used by activists to organise and publicise 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 on Thursday over the economic woes plaguing Iran and continued today, 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 the Telegram messaging app, which authorities blocked along with the photo-sharing app Instagram, which is owned by tech giant Facebook.
Many in Iran are learning about the protests and sharing images of them through Telegram, a mobile phone messaging app popular among the country's 80 million people. Yesterday, Telegram shut down one channel on the service over Iranian allegations it encouraged violence, something its moderator denied.
Telegram CEO Pavel Durov wrote on Twitter that authorities had blocked access to the app.
"Iranian authorities are blocking access to Telegram for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down ... peacefully protesting channels," he wrote.
Iran's state TV 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.
Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Facebook itself has been banned in Iran since protests against the disputed 2009 re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
However, some in Iran access it and other banned websites using virtual private networks.
Meanwhile, authorities acknowledged the first fatalities in the protests in Doroud, a city some 325 kilometres southwest of Tehran in Iran's western Lorestan province.
Protesters had gathered for an unauthorised rally that lasted into the Saturday night, said Habibollah Khojastepour, the security deputy of Lorestan's governor. The two protesters were killed in clashes at the rally, he said.
"The gathering was to be ended peacefully, but due to the presence of the (agitators), unfortunately, this happened," Khojastepour said.
He did not offer a cause of death for the two protesters, but said "no bullets were shot from police and security forces at the people."
Videos circulating on social media late Saturday appeared to show fallen protesters in Doroud as gunshots sounded in the background. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the footage.