The government of Iran has begun forcibly restricting internet access amidst an outburst of public protests against the escalating cost of living.
Data Center Dynamics reported that the shutdowns appear to be aimed at retail customers, noting that businesses, banks and government offices are still online. The shutdowns began last week in the cities of Ahvaz, Abadan, Hamidehey, Izeh and Sosanger in the province of Khuzestan, but with protests becoming more widespread, the government has extended the blackout to the entire country.
Earlier this month, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi announced that the government would pare back subsidies on bread. He claimed that the subsidies would be replaced with digital coupons within two months, although acknowledged that these would enable fewer subsidised purchases before reverting to market rates. The initiative will be expanded to cover other foodstuffs.
In the face of US sanctions, the government of Iran subsidises a wide range of everyday products. However, with many low income citizens – along with millions of refugees from Afghanistan – now no longer able to afford meat and other more expensive foods, reliance on bread for basic nourishment has increased.
Iran imports around 15 million tons of wheat annually, with around 30% of this coming from Ukraine and Russia. The latter’s ongoing war with Ukraine has disrupted the supply chain, inflating global wheat prices. While Iran has benefited from increased global oil prices and a recent crude oil deal with China, an inflation rate of 39.2% has devalued Iran’s currency, adding to the government’s woes.
The overstretched government is pursuing a strategy of removing certain subsidies, but this is sparking waves of protests that have turned violent in the past – including three years ago when fuel subsidies were revoked, sending prices skyrocketing.