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Iran Cuts Off Most Internet Service To Users Amid Protests

Protesters in Borazjan township in Iran block a roadway by burning tires. November 16, 2019

After two days of intermittent government slowdown of the internet amid widespread protests in Iran, internet services were almost completely stopped Saturday evening, plunging the country into cyber darkness.

Widespread protests began on November 15 as the government raised the price of gasoline overnight, putting more pressure on ordinary people hit hard by U.S. sanctions and a weak economy.

The internet traffic monitoring group NetBlocks reported that three major internet providers in Iran cut off service at 6 PM local time on Saturday, November 16 and its monitoring system showed a steep dive of internet traffic in Iran. The move specially impacts people relying on their smartphones for communication and information.

The government’s move is not unprecedented. In past protests the Islamic Republic slowed down or completely cut off connectivity and it also has a history of jamming radio and TV signals of Persian-speaking media broadcasting from abroad.

During the 2009 mass protests, the government jammed satellite TV signals of the BBC Persian Service, VOA Persian TV and Radio Farda’s terrestrial radio frequencies. Only boosting the number of radio frequencies eventually overcame the jamming of Farda’s programs in Iran.

The government’s heavy-handed practices in silencing uncensored news and internet connectivity is aimed at keeping people in the dark about events and also less informed about where and when protests take place.

The current internet black-out seems to be one of the strictest in the past decade. Also, compared with 2009, fewer international media outlets have correspondent in Iran to report on events.

The U.S. State Department immediately condemned “the attempted shutdown of the internet” in a tweet on November 17, calling on the Iranian government to “Let them speak”.