Journalist watchdog condemns Iranian internet shutdown after protests erupt

The IJF claims that the internet blockage across the country was used to suppress media coverage of the protests spreading throughout the country.

Iran protests 2 520 (photo credit: AP)
Iran protests 2 520
(photo credit: AP)
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the Iranian government for blocking internet access to their citizens, after protests started to break out all over the country following a significant rise in fuel prices that began on November 15.
The Iranian government plans to increase prices for rationed gasoline by 50 percent, the New York Times reported. Those who purchase gasoline that exceeds the ration limit will face a 300 percent increase in fuel prices.
The IJF claims that the internet blockage across the country was used to suppress media coverage of the protests spreading throughout the country.
“Internet shutdowns are increasingly becoming a tool for governments all over the world to silence media reporting and restricting the fundamental right of citizens to have free access to information," IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said.
"The IFJ reported that 30 countries have closed media and blocked internet access so far in 2019, evidencing the global trend to control citizens’ media and internet access. We urge the Iranian authorities to lift the blockade and stop the repression against the demonstrators."
According to the internet watchdog Netblocks, the country-wide shutdown began at 6:45 am the day after the protests began - leaving just seven percent of normal internet functionality and connectivity available throughout Iran.
“The decision to shut down the internet for at least 24 hours was initiated by the High Council for Security and conveyed to all operators in the country," the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said, according to IRNA news.
Live footage before the shutdown, on state television showed thousands joining pro-government demonstrations on Wednesday, with rallies in several cities and towns, in which people chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" - furthering the rhetoric that the government is in full control.
Once the increase in gas prices were announced the situation completely changed within the Islamic Republic.
The protests spread throughout major cities, even affecting the capital of Tehran - and what first started as peaceful protests soon turned violent - with protesters focused mainly on the issue of the increase in gas prices, nothing to do with regime changes.
Demonstrations took place across 66 cities, 24 provinces, the Global Union Federations reported.
At least 100 banks and dozens of buildings and cars have been torched, Iranian officials said, adding that about 1,000 protesters had been arrested. Quoting security sources, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said several Iranian dual nationals were also arrested.
Tehran has blamed "thugs" linked to exiles and foreign foes - the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia - for the unrest.
"The detained German, Turkish and Afghan dual nationals had been trained and funded by foreign intelligence services to ... stir up civil disobedience in Iran ... they had equipment to be used for sabotage," Fars reported, without elaborating.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said a plot to bomb Iran's major gas production installations in Assalouyeh on the Gulf had been thwarted, blaming it on "rioters," Iranian media reported.
Iranian authorities said several people, including members of the security forces and police, had been killed. A local official said on Wednesday "one of the leaders of the riots in Kermanshah Province was killed" by security forces.
Amnesty International said it derived its death toll of at least 106 protesters killed in 21 cities from witness reports, verified videos and information from human rights activists.
It said the authorities were taking dead bodies from the streets and refusing to return them or forcing families to bury them in haste.
Iran's U.N. mission on Wednesday dismissed the casualty reports as "speculative, not reliable" unless confirmed by the Tehran government.
"The baseless allegations and fabricated figures by biased Western entities do not shake government's determination in making prudent economic decisions,” mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi tweeted.
Internet censorship in Iran has already been classified as pervasive to its citizens. At any given time, the Iranian government blocks up to 27% of all computer websites, according to a survey performed by Sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are officially banned by the country and there is a new push to place Instagram on that list as well.
Iran blocked direct access to Twitter in 2009, saying that anti-government demonstrators were using the social network to organize mass protests. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently warned of the "penetration of decadent Western culture in Iran" for the reasoning behind government censorship.
However, leading Iranian political figures, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, make extensive use of both Twitter and Facebook. Some Iranians are able to get around the ban as well by using virtual private networks, or VPNs, software that allows users to connect to banned websites via computers located outside Iran.
During the 2017-18 protests in the country, the Islamic Republic blocked Internet access to mobile devices in an effort to quell the protests, and in some parts of the country completely blocked access to all networks.
The government wields this power as it instituted a national internet in 2012 in order to stymie Western influence on the Islamic republic, where every Internet service provider must have content-control software and gain approval from both the Telecommunication Company of Iran and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance - giving the government almost complete control over the internet.
Reuters contributed to this report.