Elon Musk announced he is activating Starlink satellite internet service in Iran after the nation cut off communications during recent protests.
Musk made the news public on Friday following a policy change by the Treasury Department earlier the same day, allowing companies to provide online services to Iran after the government’s crackdown.
“We took action today to advance Internet freedom and the free flow of information for the Iranian people, issuing a General License to provide them greater access to digital communications to counter the Iranian government’s censorship,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted on Friday.
“Activating Starlink…” Musk replied.
Activating Starlink …
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 23, 2022
Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo also noted that the new move by the U.S. government would increase options for internet communications for the Iranian people.
“As courageous Iranians take to the streets to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States is redoubling its support for the free flow of information to the Iranian people,” Adeyemo said in a statement to Reuters.
“With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them,” he added.
Starlink, a division of SpaceX led by Musk, offers low-orbit satellite internet services to people in places without traditional mobile telecommunications access. Musk previously provided support featuring Starlink service to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of the nation in February.
Ukraine announced at the end of February that it had received the first shipment of Starlink terminals from Musk after a government official from Ukraine had appealed to Musk on Twitter, writing: “@elonmusk, while you try to colonize Mars — Russia try to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space — Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people! We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations and to address sane Russians to stand.”
Musk responded: “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.”
Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 26, 2022
The recent protests in Iran have increased following the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman named Mahsa Amini. She died days after being arrested following allegations of improperly wearing a hijab, the traditional Islamic headscarf required for women in Iran.
Iranian governmental officials claim Amini died from a heart attack. However, her family members have stated she was badly beaten by authorities.
The protests have led to arrests after many women have burned their hijabs in public, with some cutting their hair in opposition to the government’s actions. At least a dozen people have been reportedly killed in police crackdowns on the protesters.
On Thursday, the Guardian reported that Iran had shut down internet communications in parts of the capital of Tehran and in Kurdistan. The government also reportedly blocked social media apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
BBC News revealed that the internet blackouts have largely resulted from Iran’s largest mobile phone operator being offline. Iran Mobile Communications Company, with more than 60 million users, has reportedly been the focus of the government’s censorship.