After Iran restricted the use of social media amid the ongoing protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, WhatsApp on Friday said that it has not blocked Iranian contacts and is working to ensure that Iranian friends stay connected. “We are trying so that our Iranian friends can stay in touch with each other, and we do not hesitate to do anything within our means to keep our communication services continuously active,” WhatsApp said in a series of tweets.
It said that access to private and confidential means of communication is the right of all people, and so it has not blocked the phones in Iran.
“Our main goal is to provide the possibility of confidential communication anywhere in the world. We believe that access to private and confidential means of communication is the right of all people. We have not blocked the phones related to Iran.”
“We exist to connect the world privately. We stand with the rights of people to access private messaging. We are not blocking Iranian numbers. We are working to keep our Iranian friends connected and will do anything within our technical capacity to keep our service up and running,” the tweet added. As per Al Jazeera, Iran shut down Internet services across the country since the protests erupted over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after her arrest for allegedly failing to comply with Iran’s strict rules on women’s dress by wearing an “improper hijab”.
The ongoing protests intensified on Wednesday, demonstrators hurled stones over security forces. The protestors burned vehicles and chanted anti-government slogans as the oppression against strict dress codes for women continued in Iran. Citing the Iranian state media, CBS reported that police used tear gas and arrests to disperse crowds of up to 1,000 people on Wednesday as street rallies spread to 15 cities.
Meanwhile, the UN experts on Thursday strongly condemned the death of Mahsa Amini. They called on Iranian authorities to hold an independent, impartial, and prompt investigation into Amini’s death, saying that the use of physical violence against women and the denial of fundamental human dignity when enforcing compulsory hijab policies ordained by state authorities is shameful. In a press statement, the UN Human Rights Office said the experts also denounced the violence directed against peaceful protesters and human rights defenders demanding accountability for Amini’s death in cities across the country by Iranian security forces.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the death of Amini. She is another victim of Iran’s sustained repression and systematic discrimination against women and the imposition of discriminatory dress codes that deprive women of bodily autonomy and the freedoms of opinion, expression and belief,” the experts said. Amini fell into a coma at the detention centre and died in hospital on September 16. Iranian authorities said she died of a heart attack, and claimed her death was from natural causes. However, some reports suggested that Amini’s death resulted from alleged torture and ill-treatment, the experts said.
Following the protests, prolonged Internet disruptions have been reported in Tehran, Kurdistan provinces, and other parts of the country since September 19. This is the third widespread Internet shutdown recorded in Iran over the past 12 months, according to UN Human Rights Office. “Disruptions to the internet are usually part of a larger effort to stifle the free expression and association of the Iranian population and to curtail ongoing protests. State mandated internet disruptions cannot be justified under any circumstances,” the experts said, warning against a further escalation of crackdown against civil society, human rights defenders and peaceful protesters.
As per Al Jazeera, Mahsa Amini, 22, was on a visit to Tehran with her family when she was detained by the specialist police unit. During detention after some time, she suffered a heart attack and was immediately taken to hospital with the cooperation of the emergency services. “Unfortunately, she died and her body was transferred to the medical examiner’s office,” state television said on Friday, reported Al Jazeera. The announcement came a day after Tehran police confirmed Amini had been detained with other women for “instruction” about the rules.
Following the death of Mahsa Amini, several women protesters cut their hair and burnt hijabs to protest against the mandatory veiling of women. Since September 16, thousands have taken to the streets in many cities, including Tehran, Ilam, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Mahabad, Saqez, Sanandaj, Sari and Tabriz to demand accountability for the death of Amini and to put an end to violence and discrimination against women in Iran, particularly compulsory veiling for women.
The peaceful protests have been met with excessive use of force, including birdshot by Iranian security forces, the experts said. According to reports, at least eight individuals, including a woman and a 16-year-old child, have been killed, dozens more injured and arrested. Following the incident that sparked fury on social media, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ordered the interior minister to open an inquiry into the case.
Amini’s death comes amid growing controversy both inside and outside Iran over the conduct of the morality police, known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad (Guidance Patrol). The mandatory dress code, which applies to all nationalities and religions, not just Iranian Muslims, requires women to conceal their hair and neck with a headscarf, reported Al Jazeera. Over the decades, women have increasingly pushed back, particularly in the big cities, wearing their headscarves far back on their heads to reveal their hair.