DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran suffered a “major outage” in internet service Wednesday as calls for renewed protests hit the streets weeks after the death of a 22-year-old woman in the country’s custody. Moral police, an advocacy group said.
Demonstrations over Mahsa Amin’s death have become one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the country’s 2009 Green Movement protests. There are also oil workers among the demonstratorshigh school students and women marching without the mandatory hijab.
Calls for protests that began around midday on Wednesday saw massive riot police and plainclothes officers deployed across Tehran, witnesses said. They also described outages affecting mobile internet services.
NetBlocks, an advocacy group, said internet traffic in Iran was down 25% from its peak even on a weekday when students were in class across the country.
“The incident may further limit the free flow of information during protests,” NetBlocks said.
Despite the confusion, witnesses chanted “Death to the dictator!” in Tehran. saw at least one demonstration of about 30 women removing their hijabs while chanting slogans. These cries, referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could result in a closed trial in the country’s Revolutionary Court, with the threat of the death penalty.
Cars passing by honked their horns in support of the women despite threats from the security forces. According to witnesses, other women continued their days without hijabs in silent protest. Demonstrations also took place on university campuses in Tehran, with videos allegedly showing up on the internet.
The lawyers also held a peaceful demonstration in front of the Central Bar Association of Iran in Tehran and chanted the slogan “Women, life, freedom”. The video matched the known features of the union building. In a video later released by the activists, they allegedly fled after security forces fired tear gas at them. The pro-reform “Sharq” newspaper reports that at least three people were arrested.
Videos purported to show demonstrations in Baharistan, southeast of Isfahan, as well as Shiraz in the south and Rasht, north of the Caspian Sea, on Wednesday. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, it remains difficult to gather information about the demonstrations amid internet restrictions in the country and the arrest of at least 40 journalists.
The Iranian government insists Amini was not mistreated, but his family says he has bruises and other signs of beatings. After being detained for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. Later videos showed security forces beating and pushing female protesters, including women who tore off their hijabs.
Speaking at the country’s Council of Purposes on Wednesday, Khamenei again claimed that Iran’s foreign enemies incited the demonstrations, which he regarded as “scattered” demonstrations.
“Some of these people are elements of the enemy, and if not, they are in the direction of the enemy,” Khamenei said.
Iranian state television, long controlled by the country’s hardliners, broadcast footage of what it described as women protesting in support of the mandatory hijab in Iran. Only Afghanistan and Iran mandate the hijab by law and force.
Anger has become particularly acute in the Kurdish regions of western Iran, because Amini was Kurdish. On Wednesday, the Kurdish group Hengaw Human Rights Organization showed images of closed shops and empty streets in some areas, describing it as a strike by shopkeepers. The group also posted a video it claimed came from Ami’s hometown of Saqqez, showing trucks and riot police driving through the city.
While the protests focused on Ami’s death, anger has simmered in Iran for years over the country’s cratering economy. Sanctions related to Tehran’s nuclear program have caused the country’s rial currency to collapse and wiped out the savings of many.
It is not yet known how many people have been killed or arrested in the protests so far.
The Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group estimates that at least 201 people died on Wednesday. This includes nearly 90 people killed by security forces during demonstrations against a police officer accused of rape in a separate case in the eastern Iranian city of Zahedan. Iranian authorities described the Zahedan violence as the participation of unnamed separatists without providing details or evidence.
Numerous videos have emerged of riot police firing into crowds, some of them using live fire. Apparently feeling public pressure, Iran’s police chief, General Hossein Ashtari, claimed on state television on Wednesday that “foreign counter-revolutionary groups” were wearing police uniforms and firing into the crowd, without providing evidence. He claimed that his employees arrested some of those persons.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Minister of Education Yusuf Nouri presented the first confirmation that school-age children were arrested during the protests. According to the “Sharq” newspaper, he refused to offer a figure for those arrested, saying that only those detained were placed in a “psychiatric center” and not in a prison.
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