Iran Blocks Internet Access In Capital As Amini Protests Grow | Iran

Iran has shut down the internet in parts of Tehran and Kurdistan and blocked access to platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp in an effort to curb a growing protest movement that has relied on social media to document dissent.

The protests, which broke out on September 16 after the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman in police custody, show no sign of abating. On Thursday, protesters set fire to police stations and vehicles in several cities.

This comes as anti-regime demonstrations spilled over into cyberspace, with videos of women burning their hijabs going viral. Other women have posted emotional videos in which they cut her hair in protest under the hashtag #Mahsa_Amini.

Mahsa Amini was arrested on September 16 on charges of “improperly” wearing a hijab veil. Activists said the woman, whose Kurdish name is Jhina, suffered a fatal blow to the head, a claim denied by officials, who announced an investigation. Police continue to claim that she died of natural causes, but her family suspects that she was subjected to beatings and torture.

In response to his death, the United States placed Iranian police on the sanctions blacklist on Thursday.

The US Treasury said the morality police are “responsible” for Amini’s death as it announced sanctions “for abuse and violence against Iranian women and violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protesters”.

Iranian state media reported that street rallies had spread to 15 cities on Wednesday, with police using tear gas and making arrests to disperse crowds of up to 1,000 people.

In southern Iran, video footage allegedly on Wednesday showed protesters setting fire to a giant image on the side of a building of General Qassem Soleimani, the revered Revolutionary Guards commander, who was killed in a 2020 U.S. attack in Iraq.

Protesters threw stones at security forces, set fire to police vehicles and dumpsters and chanted anti-government slogans, the official Irna news agency said.

On Thursday, Iranian media said three militias “mobilized to confront the rioters” were stabbed or shot dead in the northwestern city of Tabriz, the central city of Qazvin and Mashhad in the country’s northeast. .

A fourth member of the security forces died in the southern city of Shiraz, Iranian news agencies reported, adding that a protester was stabbed to death in Qazvin, adding to six deaths of protesters already announced by officials.

The Iranian authorities denied any involvement in the demonstrators’ deaths.

Protesters flooded a street in Tehran. Photograph: EPA

Amnesty International said it recorded the deaths of eight people – six men, one woman and one child – with four gunshots by security forces at close range with metal bullets.

The protests are among the most serious in Iran since November 2019 riots over rising fuel prices.

“Internet disruptions must be understood as an extension of the violence and repression that is taking place in physical space,” said Azadeh Akbari, a cyber-surveillance researcher at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. “Social media are existential for the mobilization of demonstrators, not only to coordinate the gatherings but also to amplify the acts of resistance.

“You see a woman standing without her hijab in front of the anti-insurgency police, who are very brave. If a video of this comes out, suddenly it’s not just one person doing it, women in all different cities are doing the same.

“Women, life, freedom”, the words that were heard at Amini’s funeral, were repeated by demonstrators across the country, even in a video showing young women burning their hijabs while male demonstrators fight the security forces. The video received over 30,000 views on Twitter.

A woman cuts her ponytail in front of the Iranian embassy in Istanbul, Turkey
A woman cuts her ponytail in front of the Iranian embassy in Istanbul, Turkey. Fueled by social media, anger has spread to cities around the world. Photograph: Erdem Sahin / EPA

In another video, an Iranian woman sings a hymn to fallen youth while cutting her hair with household scissorswhich has amassed more than 60,000 views.

“[The videos] they are one hundred percent valuable, “a young Twitter user from Iran told the Guardian, adding that although the protests did not reach her hometown, she was able to participate in opposition activity online.” I am sad that my compatriots in other parts of Iran have taken to the streets and are fighting against this regime for all our rights. And I can only share information online. “

He added that videos showing police brutality towards protesters are motivating people in different cities to take action.

“It is very difficult for the regime to control the output video. Many people don’t post them on social media, but circulate them within WhatsApp groups, etc. The demonstrations take place simultaneously in cyberspace and in physical space ”.

Social media has long been one of the key tools for anti-regime activity, as public spaces are tightly manned by security forces. “Platforms like Instagram have become the virtual street, where we can come together to protest, because it was not possible to do it in real life,” said Shaghayegh Norouzi, an Iranian activist against gender violence who lived in exile in Spain.

Norouzi said that although she was able to stay in touch with activists in Tehran, she was afraid of future internet blackouts and what they might mean for activists’ safety.

“During the latest protests [2017-2019], the government shut down the internet for days. During that time, the protesters were killed and arrested, ”she said. “Protesters also use the Internet to organize themselves. They can call each other and tell each other when they are in danger or warn each other. “

The powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps called on the judiciary to prosecute “those who spread false news and rumors” in a statement released Thursday.

Amini’s death occurred in the midst of a government crackdown on women’s rights. On August 15, Iran’s uncompromising president Ebrahim Raisi signed a decree that, among other measures, increased the punishment for women who post anti-hijab content online.

Speaking at a briefing with Western journalists on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Raisi said the circumstances of Amini’s death are under investigation.

Early signs of the investigation showed that there had been no beatings or violence leading to his death, he said. “All the signs indicate a heart attack or a stroke,” she said, but stressed that “it is not the final determination.”

He said police violence deaths have occurred hundreds of times in the US and also in the UK.

Akbari said that, while targeting women’s rights, the Iranian government was strengthening its cyber regime. She fears that continuing internet blackouts could be used to facilitate the expansion of Iran’s national internet, which is cut off from the rest of the world.

“This is a very dangerous plan, which would see the regime cut Iran completely off the global Internet in the near future,” he said. “This would allow the regime to control cyberspace together with the physical space police and develop an all-pervasive control mechanism.”

Additional reportage by Patrick Wintour in New York

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