Iran restricts internet access as protests claim 11 lives

PARIS: Iran on Thursday blocked internet access after days of protests and unrest that have claimed at least 11 lives following the death of a young woman in moral police custody.
Public anger has erupted in the Islamic Republic over the death of the 22-year-old last week Mahsa Aminwho was detained for allegedly wearing a hijab headscarf in an “improper” manner.
Activists said the woman, whose Kurdish first name is Jhina, suffered a fatal blow to the head, a charge denied by officials who announced the investigation.
During six consecutive nights of protest, female protesters have defiantly taken off their headscarves and burned them in a fire or symbolically cut their hair in front of the crowd, a video circulating on social media showed.
“No to the headscarf… yes to freedom and equality!” In Tehran, protesters were heard chanting at a rally that has been echoed by solidarity protests abroad.
Iranian women interviewed by AFP on the streets of Tehran said they were now more careful about their clothing to avoid clashes with the morality police.
“I’m scared,” said Nazanin, a 23-year-old nurse who asked to be identified by her first name only for safety reasons. “They shouldn’t confront people at all” or interfere with women’s dress code, he added.
Iran’s crackdown on protests has sparked international concern, including in an address to the United Nations by US President Joe Biden.
“Today we stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran who are demonstrating right now for their basic rights,” Biden told the General Assembly on Wednesday.
He spoke shortly after world leaders gathered in New York heard a defiant speech by Iranian President Ebrahim Rais.
She pointed to the deaths of indigenous women in Canada, as well as Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories and the Islamic State group’s “savagery” against women from religious minorities.
“As long as we have this double standard where the focus is only on one side and not on everyone equally, we will not have true justice and fairness,” Raisi said.
Iranian state media reported that by Wednesday, street protests had spread to 15 cities, with police using tear gas and making arrests to disperse crowds of up to 1,000 people.
In southern Iran, video footage on Wednesday reportedly showed protesters setting fire to a giant effigy of General Qassem Soleimani, the revered Revolutionary Guard commander who was killed in a 2020 US drone strike in Iraq, on the side of a building.
The official IRNA news agency reported that protesters threw stones at security forces, set fire to police vehicles and trash cans and chanted anti-government slogans.
“Death to the dictator” and “Woman, life, freedom” protesters could be heard shouting in video footage that circulated outside Iran, despite the network restrictions first reported by Internet access monitor Netblocks.
Iran blocked access to Instagram and WhatsApp on Thursday.
“According to the decision of the officials, since yesterday (Wednesday) evening, Instagram has not been accessible in Iran, and access to WhatsApp has also been disrupted,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
The two apps were the most widely used in Iran after other platforms were blocked in recent years, including Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, YouTube and Tick-tock.
UN human rights experts condemned both “the use of physical violence against women” and “state-mandated internet blackouts”.
“Internet disruptions are usually part of a larger effort to stifle … free speech … and limit ongoing protests,” the statement said.
Iranian media reported Thursday that three militiamen mobilized to deal with the rioters were stabbed or shot dead in northwest Tabriz, central Qazvin and northeast Mashhad.
A fourth member of the security forces died in the southern city of Shiraz, the reports said, adding that a protester was stabbed to death in Qazvin, adding to the death of six protesters already reported by officials.
But there were fears the death toll could rise as Norway-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw also reported the deaths of two protesters, aged 16 and 23, in West Azerbaijan province on Wednesday.
Iranian authorities have denied any involvement in the protesters’ deaths.
Amnesty International said it had recorded the deaths of eight people – six men, one woman and a child – four of whom were shot at close range by security forces with metal pellets.
The protests are some of the most serious in Iran since November 2019 unrest over rising fuel prices.
The wave of unrest over Amin’s death “is a very important shock, it is a societal crisis,” said Iran expert David Rigoulet-Roze of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.