Today marks day 102 of women-led anti-government protests in Iran. The protests were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested for violating the compulsory Islamic hijab dress code. She died at the hands of the Iranian 'morality police' on September 16. The Iranian government is violently trying to stop the protests and it has censored websites and shutdown internet access in some areas across the country to prevent civilians from sharing videos of the human rights violations that are taking place.
On September 23rd, the U.S. Treasury Department adjusted sanctions to help Iranians evade online surveillance and censorship by allowing American telecommunication services in Iran. SpaceX founder Elon Musk was the first to offer Internet service from the Starlink satellite constellation and the company rapidly activated Starlink satellites over Iran. An anonymous group of Iranian-American activists and tech organizations smuggled dozens of Starlink user terminals into Iran to provide high-speed internet access to communities, according to Karim Sadjadpour, a Senior Fellow at Carnegie Endow for International Peace and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University. Some of the Starlink kits were smuggled in boxes for household items, like microwave packaging.
On October 20, the United States government and the Freedom Online Coalition issued a joint-statement condemning the Internet shutdowns in Iran. "We, the members of the Freedom Online Coalition, are deeply alarmed by and strongly condemn the measures undertaken by Iran to restrict access to the Internet following the nationwide protests over the tragic killing of Mahsa Amini. In furtherance of what has become a longstanding pattern of censorship, the Iranian government has to a large scale shut down the Internet yet again for most of its 84 million citizens nationwide by cutting off mobile data; disrupting popular social media platforms; throttling Internet service; and blocking individual users, encrypted DNS services, text messages, and access entirely," the statement reads. The U.S. government is also working to deliver Starlink hardware to Iran amid the internet shutdown and White House representatives are in talks with SpaceX. It is still unknown whether the U.S. government already sent Starlink hardware to Iran.
On December 26, Elon Musk shared that there are nearly 100 active SpaceX Starlink user terminals in Iran amid the anti-government protests. “Streets of Iran now...more freedom for the women to choose whether they cover their hair or not,” wrote a Twitter user, who shared a video that featured some ladies in Iran walking down the street without a hijab (shown below). To which Musk replied –”Approaching 100 Starlinks active in Iran,” he wrote. The Starlink satellite internet service is useful to evade government censorship and enable civilians to have freedom of speech, which is a fundamental human right. Starlink enables groups to organize protests and safety operations. It also enables Iranian women to share videos of the Iranian government's human rights violations so that the rest of the world can see.
Approaching 100 Starlinks active in Iran— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 26, 2022
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Featured Image Source: Karim Sadjadpour via Twitter
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.