Iran Restricts Social Media As Protests Enter Fourth Day

(Getty Images). Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017.

ATLANTA (CNN) — Iran restricted access to several social media apps Sunday (Dec. 31) and warned that anti-government protesters who cause public disorder will “pay the price” after three days of demonstrations across the country.

Instagram and Telegram have been temporarily “restricted” in order to ensure calm and security, state-run media outlet IRIB reported Sunday.

Social media has been vital resource for Iranians participating in the protests — described as the largest public display of discontent since the 2009 Green Movement in Iran.

While independent media coverage from inside the country has been limited, protesters have used apps like Telegram, which offers public channels for users in addition to encrypted messaging, to share information and videos of protests and clashes. Official media outlets have provided few details about the protests.

Telegram’s CEO tweeted that Iranian authorities had blocked access to Telegram for “the majority of Iranians” after the company refused to shut down peaceful protesting channels.

Earlier on Sunday, the Iranian Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli issued a stern warning that protesters will “pay the price” after the demonstrations turned deadly. He said the misuse of social networks by some individuals “are causing violence and fear,” and that “such behavior will be smashed,” according to IRNA, Iran’s official news agency.

CNN was able to contact users in Iran through the Telegram app following the announcements. The app was slower than usual but messages eventually got through.

The demonstrations, which have erupted against a backdrop of rising food and gasoline prices, began Thursday (Dec. 28) in the northeastern city of Mashhad before spreading to other cities. They include Tehran, Kermanshah, Arak, Qazvin, Khorramabad, Karaj and Sabzevar, according to IRNA, citing First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri. Protests were ongoing Sunday, the fourth day of demonstrations, according to videos circulating on social media posts that originated in Tehran and other parts of the country.

“The events and occurrences of the last few days have preoccupied, saddened and hurt our beloved people,” semi-official news agency ILNA quoted Fazli as saying, before adding “those who destroy public properties, create chaos, lawlessness and insecurity in our society, will be held legally responsible and must answer for their behaviors and pay the price for it.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for the first time addressed the protests publicly on Sunday night in a tweet.

The Iranian people have the right to demonstrate and criticize, Rouhani said, but it must be done in a way that would help solve the country’s problems and make living conditions better. The destruction of public property and the disturbance of the social order is unacceptable, the tweet from Rouhani’s verified account added.

Rouhani is expected to speak in a pre-recorded address to the country Sunday, according to semi-official news agency ISNA.

Protests turn deadly

Two people were killed Saturday during protests in Doroud city, in the Lorestan province of western Iran, according to semi-official news agency Mehr News.

On Sunday, Mehr news quoted Habibollah Khojastehpour, the deputy governor of Lorestan, as confirming the deaths but denying security forces were to blame.

Several videos circulated on social media showed various people injured during protests in the city. The videos purportedly showed injured people lying on the ground and being carried away from the protest, as well as being treated in a local hospital. In some of the video, gunshots can be heard.

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video.

One local source told CNN on Saturday (Dec. 30) that during protests in the city, his family witnessed a mob storming the governor’s office and setting it on fire. Protesters were fired upon and five people were shot, the source said.

According to Mehr, Khojastehpour added that fire was not directed toward or into the crowds by the military, security or police forces.

“Clashes occurred with individuals who had taken to the streets, heeding calls by the enemies of the system,” Khojastehpour is quoted as saying. “The objective was to conclude this gathering peacefully but given the presence of the aforementioned individuals and groups, this tragedy unfortunately occurred that resulted in the killing of two individuals who were present at the clashes.”