UPDATE 23 October 09:46 UTC: Human rights group Amnesty Internationals says that as many as 106 protestors have been killed across 21 Iraqi cities as protests enter their fifth day.
According to Iran’s security forces, protesters have killed two police officers and at least five members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group.
Our original story, first published on 18 November 2019, follows.
Iran is currently subject to severe and comprehensive government internet blackouts, reports from internet monitor NetBlocks have shown.
What started as a data slowdown on Friday 15 November escalated into a full blown internet black-out from Saturday 16 November onwards.
As of 18 November 2019, internet connectivity remains at just 5% of normal levels in the country.
These blackouts appear to be in response to protests which have erupted across Iran since midnight 15 November, when the government announced a hike in petrol prices.
The block effects both connections to the international internet and connections within Iran itself, reducing the ease of communication between protestors.
The petrol scheme, decided by the Supreme Council of Economic Coordination, includes the introduction of rationing and the removal of subsidies. This has resulted in a price hike of at least 50%.
Iranians who want to purchase additional fuel will now need to do so at twice the standard price.
Estimations of the number of protestors exceed 87,000, with at least two confirmed deaths – including one police officer.
The protests have broken out after the fuel hike, but appear to be motivated by general public dissatisfaction with the country’s failing economy, following the US cancellation of the 2015 nuclear accord which would have seen a reduction in international sanctions on Iran.
Money from the petrol plan was expected to raise around 300 trillion rials each year (~$2.55bn) for social welfare spending.
President Hassan Rouhani has stated that “anarchy and rioting” will not be tolerated. The internet shutdowns appear to be a direct attempt to prevent the organization of protests within Iran, or the spread of media internationally.
Officials’ Twitter accounts have remained online throughout the blackout, including that of President Hassan Rouhani.
In recent years Iran has steadily moved to restrict its internet, attempting to block access to the Google Play Store and restricting “illegal” VPNs before moving to establish officially sanctioned and distributed VPN services.
Similarly to Russia’s ‘RuNet’, Iran has spent recent years attempting to create the infrastructure for an Iranian internet which is separate from the wider free internet. In an interview with Wired, the director of NetBlocks, Alp Toker, highlighted that the shut-down could not have been the consequence of a centralized kill-switch.
Toker claims that Iran’s government must put pressure on a combination of private and public ISPs to achieve this level of blackout, something which would have required significant preparation and organization.
While government restrictions on VPNs have improved, they remain a reliable method of overcoming content censorship.