Death of Mahsa Amin: Iran restricts internet as protest deaths mount


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.

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.

The authorities hope to control the protests by restricting the internet.

“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 fell 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 this week that Iran is experiencing its most severe internet restrictions since 2019, with mobile networks largely shut down in the country since the protests began, and social networks Instagram and WhatsApp restricted.

To avoid internet blocks, Iranians both at home 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.

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, abbreviated to Operation Iran, which gained popularity on social media after Amin’s death, also tweeted Thursday that the organization had succeeded in hacking more than 1,000 Iranian CCTV cameras, CNN claims to have independently confirmed.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that 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”.

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