Smoke rises during a protest in Isfahan, Iran, on November 16, 2019. Iranian authorities have cut internet access nationwide amid the protests. (AP Photo)
Smoke rises during a protest in Isfahan, Iran, on November 16, 2019. Iranian authorities have cut internet access nationwide amid the protests. (AP Photo)

Iranian government cuts internet access nationwide amid protests

Washington, D.C., November 20, 2019 — Iranian authorities should immediately restore internet access throughout the country and allow information to flow freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The internet has been almost entirely inaccessible throughout Iran since November 16, a day after protests broke out in dozens of Iranian cities over a jump in gas prices, according to news reports and a report by internet observatory group NetBlocks.

At least 1,000 people have been arrested since protests began in cities across Iran on November 15, and rights groups say more than 100 protesters have been killed, according to news reports.

“Shutting down the internet during protests will not make people stop demonstrating, but it will cut them off from important information that they have a right to access,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator. “Iranian authorities must immediately restore internet access nationwide and allow citizens to access information and communicate freely.”

Multiple individuals in Iran who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal confirmed that they have not been able to access the internet, including messaging services or social media, since November 16.

One individual told CPJ that newsrooms had been told by authorities that the blackout will not be lifted for at least two weeks.

The Iranian government has previously blocked specific websites or slowed internet traffic, but this outage constitutes the longest and most complete cut of service in the country, according to a report by Oracle Internet Intelligence, a blog that covers global internet connectivity issues.

“The intention of this blackout is to control the news about the exact number of killed and arrested,” Mahsa Alimardani, a researcher for freedom of expression and digital rights in Iran at press freedom group Article 19 told CPJ via phone. “Also, Iran’s recent improvements in their national intranet network makes it possible for them to minimize the cost of this blackout and squash the dissent before they re-connect to internet again.”

A Tehran-based journalist told exile-run news website IranWire that newsrooms were told on November 15 not to criticize the increase in gas prices that sparked the protests. The journalist said they did not know where the order came from, but speculated that it could have come from the prosecutor-general’s office or the Ministry of Islamic Guidance. The journalist said that their newsroom complied with the order.

Domestic Iranian news media, including the major state-run newspapers, news agencies, and broadcasters minimized the protests and the gas price hike, according to CPJ’s review of their output since the protests began.