The death of Mahsa Amini: Iran restricts the internet as protests deaths escalate

Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets in protest since the death of 22-year-old Mohassa Amini, who was arrested in Tehran and taken to a “re-education center”, apparently for not wearing a headscarf properly.

Since Friday, demonstrations have taken place in at least 40 cities across the country, including the capital, Tehran, with demonstrators calling for an end to violence and discrimination against women as well as an end to the compulsory veiling.

Dozens of protesters were reportedly killed in clashes with security forces.

CNN can’t independently verify the death toll – it is impossible for anyone outside the Iranian government to confirm – and opposition groups, international rights organizations and local journalists have provided various estimates. On Friday, Amnesty International said at least 30 people, including four children, had died. According to the official media of Radio Islamic Republic of Iran, 35 people were killed.

People light a fire during a protest against the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran on September 21, 2022.

decades of oppression

Authorities hope they can control the protests by restricting the internet – the latest in a wave that has swept Iran in recent years. They started with the Green Movement in 2009 over disputed election results and more recently the 2019 protests that erupted over high fuel prices. Hundreds are believed to have been killed in the violent crackdown three years ago and thousands injured, according to estimates published by the United Nations and human rights groups.

But this year’s protests are different – in their scale, scale and unprecedented feminist nature. There is also mobilization across the social and economic divide. A young generation of Iranians are rising up in the streets against decades of oppression — arguably more daring than ever.

The demonstrations spread to dozens of Iranian cities, from the Kurdish region in the northwest, to the capital, Tehran, and even more traditionally conservative cities such as Mashhad.

As Amini’s death caught fire – initial calls for accountability have turned into demands for more rights and freedoms, especially for women who in the decades since the 1979 Islamic Revolution have faced discrimination and severe restrictions on their rights.

But calls for regime change are also growing. People across the country chant “Death to the Dictator,” referring to the Supreme Leader, tearing up pictures Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Banner pictures appeared, on Friday evening, from Khamenei’s hometown in the city of Mashhad, where protesters set fire to a statue of a man considered one of the symbols of the Islamic Revolution. Such scenes were unthinkable in the past.

All this is happening at a time when Iran’s hard-line leadership is under increasing pressure with talks to revive the faltering 2015 nuclear deal and the state of the economy under US sanctions; Ordinary Iranians struggle to deal with high levels of inflation.

While these protests are the government’s biggest challenge in years, analysts believe the government will likely move to contain them by resorting to the harsh tactics it has used in the past. There are indications that a brutal crackdown is coming, along with internet restrictions on a level not seen since 2019. Other measures include the government’s mobilization of its supporters at mass rallies after Friday prayers. Officials described the protesters as rioters and foreign agents, and ominous warnings that the army and the IRGC force would be deployed to deal with the protests.

Speaking to state radio IRIB on Friday, Iranian Communications Minister Ahmad Vahidi said, “Until the end of the riots, the Internet will have restrictions. To prevent riots organized through social media, we are obligated to impose restrictions on the Internet.”

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

The move to impose more restrictions on the internet followed a call from the United Nations for an independent investigation into Amini’s death and a call on Iranian security forces to refrain from using “disproportionate force” against protesters.

Outrage over Amini’s death comes from public skepticism about the account given by state officials, who claim she died after suffering “Heart attack” And he fell into a coma. But Amini’s family said she does not suffer from heart disease.
The Iranians are risking everything to protest.  Their families say some of them haven't come home

Amini’s death has now become a symbol of the violent oppression women in Iran have faced for decades, and her name has spread around the world, with world leaders even calling for her at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City this week.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Thursday that United Nations experts strongly condemn the state authorities’ use of physical violence against women in Iran.

She added in a statement that “the Iranian authorities said that (Amini) died of a heart attack, and claimed that her death was of natural causes. However, some reports indicated that Amini’s death was the result of allegations of torture and ill-treatment.”

“We call on the Iranian authorities to conduct an independent, impartial and immediate investigation into the death of Ms. Amini, publish the results of the investigation and hold the perpetrators to account,” she added.

Internet suppression

Internet monitoring agency Netblocks said Friday that Iranians face a third wave of mobile internet loss “on a national scale” as protests continue.

The organization said earlier in the week that Iran has been experiencing the most stringent internet restrictions since 2019, with mobile phone networks largely closed and social media networks Instagram and WhatsApp restricted in the country since the protests began.

To get around the internet, Iranians inside the country and in the diaspora are turning to popular VPN providers like Tor Project and Hula VPN – the best downloaded apps available in Iran via Google Play Store, an Android marketplace for smartphone users to download apps , according to the monitoring service AppBrain.

However, Netblocks warned that the kind of internet disruption we’re currently seeing in the country “cannot generally be resolved with circumvention software or VPNs.”

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

Oracle Internet Intelligence described it at the time as “the largest internet shutdown ever observed in Iran”.

Meanwhile, the online hacker group Anonymous has targeted the Iranian government online over the past week, announcing several violations of government websites on Thursday.

Using the hashtag #OpIran, an acronym for Operation Iran, which began gaining traction on social media after Amini’s death, Anonymous also tweeted Thursday that the organization had successfully hacked more than 1,000 Iranian television cameras – a claim CNN was unable to crack. to confirm independently.

The United Nations calls for an investigation

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday he was “concerned by reports that peaceful protests 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 we urge everyone to exercise restraint to avoid further escalation,” Dujarric said at the daily press conference on UN TV.

The United Nations said it was closely following the protests in Iran and called on the authorities to “respect the rights to freedom 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 implement effective measures to protect them from other human rights violations, in line with international standards.”

Guterres reiterated the acting High Commissioner for Human Rights’ call for a prompt investigation into Amini’s death by an “independent competent authority”.

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