newspaper reportedWall Street JournalThe effort to smuggle the equipment used to power the Internet via the Starlink service into Iran is being led by a group of Iranian-American activists and businessmen in California.
The newspaper, quoting sources within the group responsible for these efforts, revealed that the smugglers are working to repack the devices in boxes designated for microwave ovens or other household items.
Starlink devices are transported to Iran through various routes, including by sea, through boats in the Persian Gulf that go directly to Iranian ports, in addition to shipping them via vehicles that cross the land borders or are manually transported across the mountainous borders with Iraq, according to the newspaper.
Members of the group said that smugglers charged up to $600 or more of the price of the equipment to transport such dangerous goods, stressing that the Iranian authorities seized only one shipment.
A spokesman for the Iranian government did not respond to the Wall Street Journal’s questions about the smuggling of Starlink devices that can activate satellite internet service.
Last September, the United States eased restrictions on the export of technology it imposed on Iran to expand access to Internet services that the Iranian government restricted after the crackdown on demonstrations.
The easing of US restrictions enabled SpaceX to activate Starlink internet service, virtual private networks and other networking technologies in Iran.
SpaceX did not respond to The Wall Street Journal’s requests for comment.
Unlike a fiber-optic connection, Starlink service works through a dish that communicates with satellites that send internet data to and from ground stations.
The router connects to the dish, allowing users to access the Internet through “Wi-Fi” signals without the Iranian authorities being able to censor this service.
The group worked to smuggle about 200 Starlink devices into Iran by supporters of a months-long human rights movement to help demonstrators circumvent the authorities’ slowdown or partial blocking of internet speeds.
The Iranian government has slashed bandwidth, restricted social media sites and cracked down on virtual private networks, according to analysts and reports from nongovernmental organizations.
However, determining how far the Iranian authorities should go in clamping down on Internet access is difficult for Tehran.
According to the American newspaper, if Iran shuts down the internet completely, this could deepen the country’s already severe economic problems, exacerbating the protests.
If the repression eases, the unrest that erupted after the death of a 22-year-old woman of Kurdish origin, Mahsa Amini, may spread in mid-September, days after she was detained by the morality police for violating the strict Islamic dress code.
In remarks on Dec. 3, Iran’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, said that “the only solution is to completely shut down the internet,” which he said most Iranian officials do not favor, according to state media.