Raisi charged that the two platforms, owned by US internet giant Meta, “were at the root of the insecurity in the country during the recent riots”. Image Credit: AFP file

Tehran/PARIS: Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has vowed that WhatsApp and Instagram will remain blocked in the country, blaming the online platforms for stoking protests that started over four months ago.

The Islamic republic was rocked by major demonstrations after the mid-September death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, after her arrest for allegedly breaching the country’s dress code for women.

Raisi charged that the two platforms, owned by US internet giant Meta, “were at the root of the insecurity in the country during the recent riots”, speaking on national television Tuesday evening.

“The two platforms will only be allowed to operate if they have a legal representative in the country who is responsible for their users’ activities,” the president said.

Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour said Wednesday that the continued Whatsapp and Instagram blocks were approved by “the Supreme National Security Council in the presence of the president, the head of the judiciary and the head of parliament”.

The online services were the most widely used in Iran after authorities earlier blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and TikTok.

Raisi also said that he had “told the country’s leaders that internet disruptions were causing discontent” among the population of Iran, which has become a highly connected country in recent years.

Former government spokesman Ali Rabiei warned late last month that the activities of “about three million companies and the jobs of 12 million people” were linked to the internet in Iran.

Even before the protests, internet access was restricted and most foreign websites could only be accessed through virtual private networks.

Meanwhile, hundreds of global figures from Nobel laureates to actors have issued a joint plea urging “unstinting” support for Iranians protesting against their country’s regime in defiance of a bloody crackdown.

A statement issued on Wednesday by US-based rights group Freedom House said the protesters’ “victory would mean deliverance from a regime that denies free elections, free speech, due process of law, and personal autonomy in matters as simple as the choice of clothing”.

480 signatories

It was signed by some 480 global figures, Freedom House said, including Nobel-Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and actor Richard Gere.

The “end of the Islamic republic’s system of misogyny would constitute a global landmark in the long march toward a world in which women are treated equally”, the statement said, adding: “They [protesters] deserve unstinting support from freedom-loving people around the world.”

Iranians have kept up acts of defiance in the face of a crackdown that has so far seen four men executed over the protests and at least 14,000 people arrested, according to the United Nations, while hundreds have been killed.

Iranian figures who signed the statement include some of the most prominent exiles backing the protest movement, such as US-based dissident Masih Alinejad, actor Golshifteh Farahani who lives in France, footballer Ali Karimi, and Reza Pahlavi, the son of the ousted shah.

The statement urged governments to sanction all Iranian officials involved in the repression, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and called for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be proscribed as a terror group.

Officials from “democratic governments should receive leaders of the opposition, in publicly announced meetings”, it added.

Freedom House president Michael Abramowitz said the statement “shows the remarkable unity of a broad coalition from around the world, across the political spectrum, and from all segments of society”.

“The world stands with the Iranian people as they continue to risk their lives and well-being for their freedom.”