Mahsa Amini death: Iran restricts internet as protest deaths rise

Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets since the death last week of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was apprehended in Tehran and taken to a “re-education center” apparently for not wearing a hijab properly.

Demonstrations have taken place in at least 40 cities across the country, including the capital Tehran, since Friday, with protesters calling for an end to violence and discrimination against women and an end to the compulsory wearing of the hijab.

Dozens of protesters are said to have died in clashes with security forces.

CNN cannot independently verify the death toll — the exact figure is impossible for anyone outside the Iranian government to confirm — 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 were killed, including four children; According to the semi-official Tasnim News Agency, 17 people have been killed.

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

Speaking to state broadcaster IRIB on Friday, Iran’s Communications Minister Ahmad Vahidi said: “Until the riots end, the Internet will have limits. To prevent the organization of riots through social media, we are forced to create limits on the Internet.”

Vahidi’s comments came after videos on social media showed scenes of public defiance, with women removing their headscarves and burning them and protesters chanting slogans such as “women, life, freedom”.

The move to further curtail the internet came after the United Nations called for an independent investigation into Amini’s death and Iranian security forces refused to use “excessive force” against protesters.

Outrage over Amini’s death stems from public skepticism over the account given by state officials, who say he died after suffering a “heart attack” and falling into a coma. But Amini’s family said he had no prior heart disease.

Amini’s death has become a symbol of the brutal oppression women have faced in Iran for decades, and her name has spread around the world, with world leaders even calling for it 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 strongly condemned the use of physical violence against women in Iran by state authorities.

“Iranian authorities said (Amini) died of a heart attack, and said his death was due to natural causes. However, some reports suggested that Amini’s death was the result of alleged torture and ill-treatment,” it said in a statement.

“We call on the Iranian authorities to conduct an independent, impartial and swift investigation into the death of Mrs. Amini, to make the findings of the investigation public and to hold all those responsible accountable,” he added.

Internet repression

Internet monitoring agency Netblocks said Friday that Iranians are facing a third wave of “national-scale” loss of mobile Internet connectivity as protests continue.

The watchdog group said earlier this week that Iran was facing its worst internet restrictions since 2019, with mobile networks mostly shut down and social networks Instagram and WhatsApp restricted in the country since the protests began.

To avoid internet blocks, Iranians are turning to popular virtual private network (VPN) providers both inside the country and in the diaspora, such as the Tor Project and Hula VPN — the top apps downloaded in Iran through the Google Play Store on the Android market. mobile phone users to download apps, according to AppBrain’s tracking service.

However, Netblocks cautioned that the type of internet outages currently seen in the country “generally cannot be avoided using software or VPNs”.

Similar internet restrictions took place in Iran in November 2019, taking Iranians almost completely offline as authorities tried to curb the spread of protests over fuel prices.

Hundreds of Iranian women burn their hijabs as they protest Mahsa Amini's death

Oracle’s Internet Intelligence called it “the largest internet blackout ever seen in Iran” at the time.

Meanwhile, the Internet activist hacker group Anonymous has also targeted the Iranian government online in the past week, announcing several breaches of government websites on Thursday.

Using the hashtag #OpIran, short for Operation Iran, which began to gain traction on social media following Amini’s death, Anonymous also tweeted Thursday that the organization had succeeded in hacking more than 1,000 Iranian CCTV cameras — a claim CNN was unable to confirm. to independently confirm.

The UN calls for an investigation

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday he was “concerned by the excessive use of force during peaceful protests that has resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries”.

“We call on the security forces not to use unnecessary or disproportionate force and call on everyone to take precautions to prevent further escalation,” Dujarric said in a daily briefing on UNTV.

The UN said it was closely following the protests in Iran and called on the authorities to “respect the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association”.

“We also call on the authorities to respect women’s rights and implement effective measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls and to protect them from other human rights violations, in accordance with international standards.”

Guterres reiterated the call of the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights for an immediate investigation into Amini’s death by an “independent competent authority”.