Washington is supporting the Iranians. The US Treasury Department announced on Friday, September 23, the lifting of certain bans on trade with Iran, in order to allow technology companies to provide platforms and services allowing access to the Internet, including access has been severely restricted in the country by the authorities. “ With these changes, we are helping the people of Iran to be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to monitor and censor them.”, detailed the ministry in its statement, stressing the importance for Iranians to have “access to factual information”.
The government of Tehran has blocked access to Instagram and WhatsApp after six days of protests sparked by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman arrested by the morality police. State media said on Thursday that seventeen people had died in the protests. But the toll is likely to be much heavier: Friday, the NGO Iran Human Rights, based in Oslo, reported at least 50 civilians killed.
Human rights NGOs are particularly concerned that the blocking of Instagram, extremely popular in Iran, which could allow a crackdown ” behind closed doors “according to Amnesty International.
NetBlocks, a London-based site that monitors internet blockages around the world, described the restrictions as “the toughest” in Iran since the deadly crackdown on protests in November 2019, when the network was almost completely cut off. The organization says mobile networks have been temporarily suspended and some areas are facing severe access restrictions. Observers have thus noted a blockage in Iranian Kurdistan (north-west), the region of origin of Mahsa Amini, where some of the most violent demonstrations took place.
Speaking to Agence France-Presse, Mahsa Alimardani, researcher on Iran for the rights organization Article 19, specified that some people manage to circumvent the restrictions by using virtual private networks. She believes that the authorities could fear the negative effects on the country’s economy in the event of a complete shutdown and that they can also rely on the “national information network”a kind of national Internet.
Restrictions “complicate” the publication of videos of demonstrations, but despite everything, “they continue to circulate”, according to her. Among these videos published on the networks are those of women burning their veils, demonstrators tearing down effigies of the leaders of the Islamic Republic, but also of the police firing on the crowd.
“The possibility of a bloodbath”
During the November 2019 protests, sparked by rising fuel prices, the internet shutdown allowed authorities to crack down virtually behind closed doors. Amnesty International says 321 people were killed then, stressing that this number only covers proven cases and that the real death toll could be much higher.
The NGO says “very concerned about disruptions in access to the Internet and mobile networks”and calls on the international community to exert prompt pressure so that Tehran “stop killing and injuring even more protesters out of sight”. Hadi Ghaemi, the director of CHRI, believes that “the possibility of a bloodbath is now real”.
Instagram boss Adam Mosseri shared his concern, while the WhatsApp app stressed it was not the cause of the disruption, adding that the group “would do everything in [ses] capabilities to maintain service”. The Signal messaging service confirmed that it is still blocked in Iran and encouraged its users outside the country to use workarounds, via intermediary servers, to allow Iranians to connect.