Iran imposes internet blackout in attempt to quell protests

Iran was in a state of near-total nationwide shutdown of online connectivity as protests over the death of a woman arrested by hijab police grew larger and increasingly violent.

The internet access observatory website Netblocks and Iranian activists started reporting the issue late Wednesday, when much of the country, including the capital Tehran, was witnessing intense clashes between protesters and government forces.

Internet data on mobile phones was almost entirely disconnected on Thursday while home broadband was severely disrupted in most of the flashpoint cities. The popular Instagram platform and WhatsApp messaging services are also entirely blocked for the first time. However, some Iranians could get through after trying multiple anti-filtering software.

Iranian officials have confirmed the disruptions, with the hard-line Tasnim news agency saying the measures were meant to prevent “communication and coordination among leaders of the riots.” The Islamic Republic employed a similar tactic to crush the 2019 deadly protests over fuel price hikes.

Iranians abroad have launched an online campaign to draw international attention to the blackout. “Last time they did this, they killed more than 1,500 people. … Be their voices,” wrote UK-based Iranian actress Falamak Joneidi in an Instagram story. She was referring to the 2019 unrest, when security forces, according to Amnesty International, killed over 300 people, while a Reuters report put the toll at 1,500. The rallies largely subsided after the week-long internet shutdown.

Despite the latest blackout, new protests were held on the sixth day after the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the controversial hijab police, known as Guidance Patrols. Videos published by opposition outlets showed protesters clashing with armed riot police in Tehran, where women once again set headscarves on fire. In the city of Eslamabad, a police kiosk was seen destroyed by protesters, and in two different locations, elderly people were severely beaten by security forces. Another viral video showed riot police in Anzali city smashing their way into a residential apartment building to chase protesters, who were harbored by the owners.

State television confirmed that at least 26 people have been killed over the past few days, among them members of police and Basij paramilitary forces, who often participate in plain clothes. The toll counted by one rights activist organisation is at 31.

Meanwhile, the hacktivist group Anonymous declared a solidarity campaign by bringing down key Iranian government online platforms for hours. Last in the chain of the targets was the website run by the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian authorities appeared defiant, planning a series of “spontaneous” counter-rallies for Sept. 23 after Friday prayers. And the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps issued a statement calling the protests a “sedition” plotted by the foreign enemies of the Islamic Republic.

The protesters had to brace for even more after Kayhan, the ultraconservative daily linked to Khamenei’s office, demanded a merciless crackdown, stating, “The public wants serious and prompt action against these criminals.”

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