As protests over the death of a young woman in the custody of the morality police rocked the Islamic Republic, Iranian authorities said they would restrict internet access in the country until calm is restored on the streets.
Thousands of Iranians took to the streets in protest after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested last week in Tehran and taken to a “re-education center” for not wearing her hijab properly.
Demonstrations have taken place in at least 40 cities across the country, including the capital Tehran, since Friday, with protesters demanding an end to violence and discrimination against women, as well as an end to the compulsory hijab.
At least 1,200 people have been arrested in connection with the protests, Iran’s state-backed Tasmin news agency said on Saturday, citing a security official.
It is reported that dozens of demonstrators were killed in clashes with security forces.
CNN cannot independently verify the death toll — no one outside the Iranian government can confirm it — and differing estimates have been given by opposition groups, international rights organizations and local journalists. Amnesty International said on Friday that at least 30 people, including four children, had died; According to the state media of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 35 people died.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit organization that monitors freedom of the press, it was observed that journalists were also targeted by the authorities during the demonstrations, and at least 17 people were arrested.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has asked all people to identify the protesters, the country’s semi-official news agency Fars News reported.
The IRCG is the elite wing of the Iranian army, created after the country’s revolution in 1979.
Authorities hope that by restricting the internet, they will be able to control the protests, the latest in a wave of protests that have swept Iran in recent years. They started with the Green movement in 2009 due to the disputed election results and more recently the 2019 protests that led to the increase in fuel prices. Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed and thousands injured in the violent crackdown three years ago, according to estimates released by the UN and rights groups.
But this year’s protests are different – in scale, scope and an unprecedented feminist character. There is also mobilization in the socio-economic gap. A younger generation of Iranians is taking to the streets against decades of repression – certainly bolder than ever.
Demonstrations have spread to dozens of Iranian cities, from the Kurdish region of northwest Iran to the capital Tehran and even more traditionally conservative cities such as Mashhad.
Although they were fueled by Amin’s death – the initial calls for accountability turned into demands for more rights and freedoms, especially for women who faced discrimination and severe restrictions on their rights for decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iranian women talk about hijab law and morality police
But calls for regime change are also increasing. All over the country, people refer to the Supreme Leader, tear down portraits of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and shout “death to the dictator”. On Friday night, in Khamenei’s hometown of Mashhad, protesters burned an effigy of a man considered one of the symbols of the Islamic Revolution. Earlier such scenes were unthinkable.
All this comes at a time when Iran’s hard-line leadership is under increasing pressure with negotiations to revive the stalled 2015 nuclear deal and the economy under US sanctions; ordinary Iranians are struggling to cope with rising inflation.
While the protests are the government’s biggest challenge in years, analysts believe the government will resort to heavy-handed tactics it has used in the past to contain them. With internet restrictions at a level not seen since 2019, there are signs that a brutal crackdown is coming. Other measures include the government mobilizing its supporters for mass rallies after Friday prayers; Officials dismiss the demonstrators as rioters and foreign agents and have issued dire warnings that the army and Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps will be sent in to deal with the protests.
“There will be internet restrictions until the unrest ends,” Iranian Communications Minister Ahmad Vahidi told state broadcaster IRIB on Friday. We have an obligation to create internet restrictions to prevent riots through social media.”
Wahidi’s comments came after social media showed scenes of public protests in which women took off their hijabs and set them on fire, with demonstrators chanting slogans such as “women, life, freedom”.
The move to further restrict the internet also comes after the UN called for an independent investigation into Amin’s death and calls for Iranian security forces to refrain from using “disproportionate force” against protesters.
The furor over Ami’s death has fueled public skepticism over the account given by government officials who claimed he died after a “heart attack” and slipped into a coma. But Ami’s family said that she had no previous heart disease.
Amini’s death has now become a symbol of the violent oppression faced by women in Iran for decades, and her name has spread around the world, with world leaders even calling her out at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Thursday that UN experts have strongly condemned the use of physical violence against women in Iran by state authorities.
“Iranian authorities said (Amini) died of a heart attack and claimed that his death was of natural causes. However, some reports suggested that Ami’s death was the result of torture and ill-treatment,” the statement said.
“We call on the Iranian authorities to conduct an independent, impartial and prompt investigation into the death of Mrs. Amini, to make the results of the investigation public and to bring all the perpetrators to justice,” he added.
Internet monitoring agency Netblocks said on Friday that Iranians are facing a third wave of mobile internet connectivity “on a national scale” as protests continue.
The watchdog group said earlier in the week that Iran is experiencing its most severe internet restrictions since 2019, with mobile networks largely shut down in the country and social networks Instagram and WhatsApp restricted since the protests began.
To avoid internet blocks, Iranians both domestically and in the diaspora turn to popular Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers such as Tor Project and Hula VPN – the most downloaded apps through the Google Play Store, the marketplace for Android smartphones in Iran. According to the AppBrain monitoring service, users download apps.
However, Netblocks warned that the current internet disruption in the country “cannot generally be overcome by using evasion software or VPNs”.
Similar internet restrictions took place in Iran in November 2019, taking Iranians almost completely offline as authorities tried to contain the spread of nationwide protests over fuel prices.
Violent repression does not slow protests against Iran’s moral police
Oracle Internet Intelligence called it “the largest internet shutdown ever seen in Iran” at the time.
Meanwhile, internet activist hacker group Anonymous also targeted the Iranian government online last week, announcing several breaches of government websites on Thursday.
Anonymous, which uses the hashtag #OpIran, short for Operation Iran, which started trending on social media after Amin’s death, also tweeted on Thursday that the organization had succeeded in hacking more than 1,000 Iranian CCTV cameras – a claim CNN independently confirmed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday he was “disturbed by reports that peaceful demonstrations have been met with excessive use of force, resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries”.
“We call on the security forces to refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force and call on everyone to exercise restraint to avoid further escalation,” Dujarric told UNTV at a daily briefing.
The UN said it was closely monitoring the protests in Iran and called on the authorities to “respect the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association”.
“We also call on the authorities to respect women’s rights, eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls, and take effective measures to protect them from other human rights violations in accordance with international standards.”
Guterres reiterated his call from the acting High Commissioner for Human Rights for an urgent investigation into Amin’s death by an “independent authority”.
Iran’s interior minister denied that Mahsa Amini was beaten, according to the country’s state news agency IRNA on Saturday.
“The results of observations, conversations with those at the scene, receiving reports from relevant institutions and other investigations showed that the late Mrs. Amini was not beaten,” Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told IRIB (Iran’s state television), IRNA reports.
According to IRNA, the President of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, called Amini’s family and said that he ordered a careful investigation of the incident so that no rights would be violated. Early coroner’s findings found no signs of beating, he said during a visit to the UNGA in New York last week.
After returning to Iran, after his visit to the UN General Assembly in New York, Raisi also called the family of a member of Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was killed during protests in Mashhad.
In a statement issued by the head’s office, Basij member Rasul Dost expressed his condolences to the family of Mohammadi and said that “it is necessary to distinguish between protest and violation of public order and security”, and also described the protests. as riot and evil.’