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Iran Limits Internet Access In Anticipation Of Planned Thursday Protests

An Iranian man shows his phone while unable to load a social media page as internet service is reportedly disrupted, Tehran, Iran, 17 November 2019.
An Iranian man shows his phone while unable to load a social media page as internet service is reportedly disrupted, Tehran, Iran, 17 November 2019.

Iranian security forces are preparing to prevent a fresh round of protests by slowing or shutting down the Internet in several cities and stationing security forces and riot police in the streets.

Social media users in several Iranian cities have reported a heavy presence of armed security forces in Tehran and some other cities as well as serious internet connection problems since early Wednesday. They have also reported problems accessing proxy servers and VPNs allowing access to banned websites.

The authorities have also pressured families of protest victims to cancel plans to hold 40th-day memorials for victims of the November protests including Pouya Bakhtiari who was shot in the head on November 16. Pouya's family members and even some of his relatives who were arrested on Sunday are still held by security forces.

Social media users from different Iranian cities and towns are posting calls to protest tomorrow with the hashtag "see-you-Thursday". In preparation for the Internet shut down people have also resorted to handwritten leaflets with hashtag marks to call for protests on December 26, a video posted on Twitter shows.

The Iranian state-run television alleges that Pouya's death "is suspicious" and used by Iran's enemies and the media outside Iran to "create symbols" against the Islamic Republic. The Iranian authorities call this "a project to create [fake] martyrs" to accuse the Islamic republic of killing protesters.

Pouya was shot in the head and many others lost their lives in the protests throughout the country. Thursday December 26 marks the 40th day of one of the highest death tolls for protesters, which in Iranian mourning rites is an important event to attend.

In a statement on December 13 a group of mothers and relatives of the protesters and political activists killed in Iran in the past four decades proposed to designate the 26 of December as an international day to commemorate the victims of the November protest in Iran.

In a Twitter post ​ last night one of the signatories of the statement, Shahnaz Akmali, cancelled her invitation to holding the memorial tomorrow under pressure from the security forces. Like Pouya Bakhtiari, Ms. Akmali's son Mostafa Karimbeigi was shot in the head in the 2009 protests.

In her Twitter post Shahnaz Akmali who is one of the founders of the group called "Mothers of Laleh Park" or "Mothers of Peace" said she is retracting her invitation for holding a public memorial tomorrow "due to the order of security and judicial authorities" and used the hashtags "silence" and "my daughter" which implies she is worried for her daughter's safety.

Ms. Akmali's and her daughter Maryam Karimbeigi have both been repeatedly intimidated by security forces. Intimidation of the family has increased since the call for holding a public memorial for Pouya and visiting his family before they were arrested on Sunday evening.

On Tuesday the Revolutionary Guards intelligence threatened Maryam and took her phone, ID and car plate. Ms. Akmali herself has a one-year sentence hanging over her head for "propaganda against the system". The court that found her guilty in 2017 also deprived her of the right to leave the country, engage in political activity and even social media activity, which she has always defied.

Meanwhile, in a video broadcast by the London-based Iran International television and widely circulated on the social media Mahjabin Navisipour, the mother of two young men martyred in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) called Pouya a "martyr" and asked the authorities to release his parents and allow them to hold their planned memorial for their son.

In a tweet today Internet watchdog Netblocks confirmed that there has been evidence of mobile internet disruption in parts of Iran beginning 6:30 a.m. local time. "Real-time network data show two distinct drips in connectivity this morning," Netblocks reported.

The Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) this morning quoted an informed source in the Communications Ministry as saying that the security bodies have ordered the mobile Internet to be shut down in Alborz, Shiraz, Kordestan and Zanjan provinces. In some places mobile Internet is completely down.

The source also told ILNA that more provinces may be affected in the coming hours. Social media users have also reported serious problems in Mazandaran and Mashad provinces.

The cities where the problem is more seriously affecting connection to the web are Karaj, where Pouya lived and is buried, Tehran, Shiraz, Kermanshah, Mashad, Ahwaz and Isfahan.

The protests against the Shah of Iran which resulted in the victory of the 1979 Islamic revolution followed a pattern of protests every 40 days when the 40th day memorial of the victims of the previous protests turned into fresh unrest.