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US sanctions Iranian minister over internet blackout

US Treasury Department says Iran's minister of information is involved in 'repressive internet censorship'
Sanctions come after internet services were blocked in Iran amid protests against gasoline price hikes (AFP/File photo)

The United States has issued sanctions against an Iranian official it says is responsible for recent internet outages across the country.

The US Treasury Department announced on Friday that it had sanctioned Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran's minister of information and communications.

The department said Jahromi "has advanced the Iranian regime's policy of repressive internet censorship since he took office in mid-2017 and has also been involved in surveillance against opposition activists".

The sanctions will freeze any financial assets Jahromi may have in the US and forbid American businesses and banks from dealing with him.

"We are sanctioning Iran's Minister of Information and Communications Technology for restricting internet access, including to popular messaging applications that help tens of millions of Iranians stay connected to each other and the outside world," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement, according to AFP.

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The sanctions come after internet services were blocked in Iran amid protests against government-imposed gasoline price hikes of at least 50 percent.

The protests erupted on 15 November after the price increases were announced and spread to 100 cities and towns across Iran, quickly turning political with demonstrators calling for government officials to step down.

Iranian security forces have killed at least 106 people since the protests began, Amnesty International said earlier this week.

Iran's mission to the United Nations dismissed that death toll as "speculative" and "not reliable".

Iranian authorities have said several people, including members of the security forces and policemen, have been killed. They have blamed the unrest on "foreign foes".

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported that the country's security council ordered the internet shutdown.

Internet services were slowly being restored in areas across the country on Thursday, Fars said.

Still, Netblocks, a group that monitors internet blockages around the world, said that service was only partially restored as of Thursday.