Iran, Starlink and Mr. Musk

With thousands of satellites, It should come great responsibility, at least when lives are at stake…

This story was originally published at Vocal on Sep 27th, 2022

On September 13th, Mahsa Amini, 22 years old girl visiting Tehran, the capital of Iran, was arrested by the ‘Guidance Patrol.’ Guidance patrol or ‘morality police’ is a part of the Iran Police force. They stop in the streets with their vans, and if they think someone, especially women, doesn’t have a ‘proper’ hijab, they will arrest them.

Sometimes the police officers just warn people verbally; most of the time, they arrest them, put them in their vans and transfer them to a special police station designated as the ‘Morality Security Police Force Office.’

If you are lucky, the police ask you to sign a recognizance letter. You should admit to your wrongdoing (not wearing the hijab in a way that the officers think is proper), and you should participate in a mandatory lecture session. In this meeting, they lecture you about the value of the hijab.

Sometimes they may sentence you to pay a fine. But sometimes, the situation could get much worst. Police can put you in jail and even sentence you to the punishment of whipping.

Mahsa was arrested because the officers believed her hijab was loose. She begged them not to arrest her because she had no one in Tehran and was just on a vacation whit his brother. Her brother asked the police to release her. Still, according to his police forcefully put Mahsa in the van and brought her to the station.

We don’t know exactly what happened in the van. We know that Mahsa was arguing with the officers until the end. And then suddenly she fell to the ground. After long few minutes, an ambulance arrived and took her to the hospital. She arrived at the hospital with brain death. Doctors told her family that she had multiple heart arrests and brain strokes.

Two days later, she was pronounced dead.

Her parents emphasized that she had no background issues. The independent physician mentioned that her death could be a result of head injuries or a high-stress level that she was subjected to by the police.

Mahsa became the latest victim of a systematic assault on women’s rights in Iran.

At her funeral, the sparks of anger about this injustice became flame. In Sanchez in Kordestan, Women at the funeral of Mahsa took off their scarves. The day wasn’t over when all of a sudden, people all around Iran came to the street and start the protest against the regime and brutality of the police and the violation of women’s rights.

Iran has witnessed many protests recently, especially since 2009, when the green movement took the street to protest against the result of the presidential election. But there was nothing quite like this that happened in Iran.

This time the main chant and manifest of the protester are: “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Brave Iranian people stand against the machine of suppression of the Islamic Republic. Women and young girls are burning their headscarves in front of the anti-riot police.

And the people of Iran are paying a high price for their bravery. So far (September 25th), more than 40 people have been killed at the hand of police. Many people have been arrested.

The Iranian regime has a pattern of clashing with the protestors. One of their first steps is to limit access to the internet and, if necessary, shut it down.

The regime has been working on this issue for many years. They passed laws to limit the access of Iranian users to servers outside of Iran. They had supported some start-ups in Iran to provide hosting and cloud base services inside Iran with the mandate that all of the users’ information would be available to authorities. This is part of the plan. If protests happened, the government could shut down the internet. But all the services, such as the Iranian banking system, online taxis and local businesses, will still be available inside Iran because they had to move their servers and services inside Iran.

The last time the wide protests happened in Iran was in 2019 and 2020. The Bloody November or Bloody Aban.

The protests started when the government raised the price of gas by 200 percent in one night. After a few days, the internet shutdown happened. During this blackout, the regime killed about 1500 people all over Iran.

This time again, Iran started to put a limitation on internet access. They slow down and, in some places, shout down the internet. Put more restrictions on communication apps and added more and more sites to their filtering list.

Iranian are in dire need of help to keep their communication with the world alive.

This is not just about sending news. It is about survival.

There is a common belief that the Iranian regime, or any other authoritarian regime in the world, thrives better in the darkness. When there is no way to communicate with the outside world, in a country where the state has complete control over the media (TV and radio stations are exclusively run by the state, and all the press are subjected to heavy censorships), authorities feel more comfortable to show the naked face of their brutality. The violence and killing will intensify when no one is watching and when they shout down the internet.

This is why Iranian people are struggling to keep their internet connections open. They are trying to use proxies, VPNs and all possible technical methods to go beyond the wall of government censorship. Still, these are helpful methods if there is any connection at all.

When the threat of shouting down the internet became more imminent in ran, many people asked tech giants for help. Especially Elon Musk. They asked him to provide the Starlink internet for Iranian people.

When a reporter on the Persian desk of DW asked Elon Musk on Twitter about the possibility of providing Starlink to Iranian people, he twitted:

“Starlink will ask for an exemption to Iranian sanctions in this regard.”

That was a weird answer. Because the treasury department already exempted a civilian’s communication services in Iran from sanctions. Based on this exemption, Meta, Alphabet, and other companies are already providing such services in Iran, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Online courses, Gmail and many more.

Elon Musk and Starlink also seemed to forget that Iranian need receivers and subscriptions to communicate with Starlink and also forgot to mention that Starlink’s system right now also relies on ground stations based on available stations. There are many blind spots for Starlink in Iran.

The treasury department issued an updated version of the general license to facilitate companies providing internet services to Iranians.

Secretary Blinken broke this news on Twitter, and Elon Musked replied

“Activating Starlink …”


The news brought a lot of joy and hope for the people who were sacrificing their lives in the streets inside Iran… and of course, it was a false and dangerous hope.

It was false because Mr. Musk knew better than us that so-called ‘activating Stralink’ means nothing for Iranians.

This is not even remotely comparable with the situation in Ukraine, where the legitimate government asked for help and facilitated the import of receivers of Starlink.

Here and in Iran, people are fighting against the government, which has already filtered Starlink’s website, which will not let the receiving equipment for Starlink come to Iran legally. And definitely won’t let Starlink build its ground station inside Iran – a vital part of the system.

Even If Iranian outside of Iran can buy and smuggle the equipment into Iran and provide the subscription fees, there are still some dark areas inside Iran. Also, this doesn’t mean Free internet for Iranian. This just means a few people may have access to some internet during a blackout and can send the messages out to the world. This is great, but it will have its own risks.

But the lack of correct and straightforward communication from Mr. Musk and a colossal advertisement campaign around anything related to him gave some people in the street that right now they can access free and open internet via Starlink. So far, it is just false hope, but the real danger came immediately.

A few hours after this tweet, dozens of apps (installer files) circulated around via social media, claiming that if you install it to your phone, you can access the internet.

We all know that this is not true. People have a chance and calm to check it at a normal time, but in the middle of chaos, many people may believe it. Even if they go to the primary source (Elon Musk himself), they can see that he twitted that he is activating StarLink, so maybe these apps are legitimate.

So, what are these apps? Some of them are just the installer file of the StarLink app, which you can use to set up your equipment and mean nothing without them and without your subscriptions, there is malware.

There is a possible danger that Iranian Cyber Forces create apps under this pretence to access protestors’ cell phones. And we all know what could be in store for those who will be arrested during or for these protests: ask from Mahsa Ambani and more than 40 people who lost their lives in the first 10 days of demonstrations and hundreds who are detained right now.

Twitter is a fun way to communicate with people. Addressing complicating issues with two words could be an exciting way of engaging people and hype your product and company also a common form of business these days. But there should be a line. When people’s lives are at stake, maybe it is an excellent time to approach an issue more professionally. Star Link and Mr. Musk’s communication team have the skills to create a fact sheet about Star Link in Iran, The access, and the misinformation around it. Such a small and short document could save lives and support the security of people. And it is essential to ask why they don’t do this?

Elon Musk and other tech giants’ visions are creating a hopeful perspective for the future. Still, these times, we ask ourselves and them if they really care about what they are saying and advertising?

Misinformation and disinformation are always dangerous. But in times of chaos and fight for justice, they could be fatal. And this is not a lot to ask influential people such as Elon Musk to not add to the confusion by avoiding clear and straightforward communication of factual information.

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