Iran disconnects Internet to crack down on protests in silence
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the suppression of the fundamental right to online news and information in Iran, where the Internet was completely disconnected on the evening of 16 November in response to major protests against fuel price hikes in more than 100 cities across the country, and where connections are still badly disrupted.
The Iranian regime often shuts down Internet access in order to contain and crush protests but it has never done it for so long in the past. This time Iran was completely cut off from the rest of the world for 52 hours and connectivity is still very erratic.
This decision was taken by the High Council for National Security, which is chaired by President Hassan Rouhani, in order to rein in the spread of information, especially on social networks.
According to independent media and journalists, the security forces killed 100 people during three days of protests. But Iran’s entire population of 80 million inhabitants was deprived of its right to information because of “hoodlums” of whom there were “very few,” according to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Rouhani.
According to official figures, around 62 million Iranians use mobile phones to connect to the Internet. In theory, apps and platforms such as Telegram, Signal, Facebook and Twitter are banned in Iran but many people use specialized apps to circumvent the blocking.
For 15 years, the regime has been promoting its national information network, called the “Halal Internet,” portraying it as a way to access more services with complete security. In reality, the authorities seek above all to restrict the flow of freely and independently reported information, which is described as “counter-revolutionary” and “subversive.”
In July 2016, the UN Human Rights Council recognized access to the Internet, and the freedom of expression that accompanies it, as a fundamental right and condemned measures designed to prevent or deliberately disrupt access to online information.
“We deplore this latest crackdown on freedom of information in Iran and we urge David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to intercede as quickly as possible to protect Iranians’ fundamental rights,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran-Afghanistan desk. “The Iranian regime must adhere to its obligations to respect international standards and put a stop to all digital discrimination.”
In a letter to UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet, Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi said: ““Media monopoly is not limited to radio, television and government sponsored publications. Many government actors such as the Supreme Leader, the President and even the Minister of Information and Communications Technology use filtered media channels such as Twitter and Telegram to publicly share their poisonous messages against the wishes of citizens. If these channels are free to use, then they should be free to use by all citizens not only for authorities connected to the government.”
Iran is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.