The Iranian regime’s leadership has reacted to the ongoing wave of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old who died in police custody over a week ago after being subjected to violence. The shutdown of the internet in Iran is one of the main aspects that is allowing the regime to increase its acts of violence against innocent civilians.
Since Wednesday, especially, the internet has been severely restricted across the country. Mobile networks are largely switched off according to reports from the organization NetBlocks, an organization founded in 2017 to monitor internet freedom. Access to Instagram, the only major social media platform still permitted in Iran, has still been restricted.
Iran is now subject to the strictest internet restrictions, as a result of the November 2019 massacre. According to human rights organizations, around 1,500 people were killed in protests against rising petrol prices in late 2019. These days, the situation in Iran is very tense. Many people are angry and desperate and feel like to have little to lose. They are suffering greatly from the current economic crisis and from everyday reprisals.
The recent death of a young woman, who was detained for allegedly violating the compulsory headscarf rules, has erupted anger and resentment at the political system. It is a deep internal crisis, and the government has had no other answer to resolve the issues than to conduct further repression of Iranian citizens.
The regime is a political system that is at constant war with its own people. The shutdown of the internet has a clear purpose: to hide the fact that the police and security forces will crack down on the demonstrations with all their might and massacre protesters, and prevent the world from seeing pictures of what is happening.
Restrictions on international Internet access can be judged from two perspectives. This issue can be viewed both from the perspective of citizenship rights and from the perspective of economic benefits.
The developments of the last decade have made the right to access the Internet practically one of the rights of the country’s citizens. That is, just as governments consider access to drinking water, electricity, telecommunication network, and public education as their duty, they should also consider the development and continuation of Internet access as their inherent duty and invest in it.
For this reason, limiting this right can be seen as a form of depriving citizens of their fundamental rights. From the economic perspective, the internet shutdown will only increase the growing poverty levels in the country. At the moment, one in five people in Iran is currently living under the poverty line.
The state-run Donya-e Eghtesad daily pointed out some of the definite losses and disadvantages of the Internet shutdown in everyday life and wrote, “Certainly, one of the first consequences of such decisions is the reduction of sales of online businesses. It should be noted that being connected to the internal Internet (i.e., conditions where access to external services is not established, but internal services are working) does not solve this problem.”
They stated, “A significant number of people do not understand the difference between the domestic Internet and the international Internet, and when they cannot use the Google search engine, they assume that the Internet is completely disconnected.”
The daily further added, “Especially, they do not keep the domain addresses of Iranian sites. There are estimates that Iranian sites spend about 3000 billion rials annually for SEO only on Google to be seen higher and better by customers when searching for goods and services. When Google is down, all these costs are wasted.”
In a national survey conducted by the Iranian Student Opinion Center (ISPA) in the summer of 2021, among the urban and rural populations, for those over 18 years of age, 79% of people said that they use social media; 71% via WhatsApp, 53% on Instagram, and 40% used Telegram. In contrast, the most used internal social media site is Rubika, which only 8% of people have used.
In the same survey, 50% of the society said that they prefer to use only foreign social media apps, while only 2% said that they prefer to use domestic social media apps.
These numbers show that similar domestic tools have not been welcomed by the public, mostly due to the citizens’ mistrust of the regime. This is because nearly almost all of the working IT companies in Iran are cooperating with the regime and their apps are being used for surveillance, or they have functional and quality problems.
In such a situation, it is only natural that the blocking of messenger apps and external social network sites will seriously harm businesses and increase people’s livelihood difficulties.
It should be concluded that the internet shutdown is a double-sided blade for the regime. While helping it to create passing security measures, from a pervasive perspective, it will only increase dissatisfaction among citizens and flame new protests.