Iran starts internet shutdown ahead of possible new protests

In November, Iran shut down the Internet for about a week to help stifle the fuel protests. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 December 2019

Iran starts internet shutdown ahead of possible new protests

  • Social media posts and some relatives of people killed in unrest last month over hikes in gasoline prices have called for renewed protests
  • The shutdown was ordered by “security authorities” and covered the Alborz, Kurdestan and Zanjan provinces

DUBAI: Iran's authorities have restricted mobile internet access in several provinces, an Iranian news agency reported on Wednesday, a day before new protests were expected to kick off following calls for the demonstrations on social media.
Social media posts, along with some relatives of people killed in unrest last month, have called for renewed protests and for ceremonies to commemorate the dead to be held on Thursday.
The protests were initially sparked in November by hikes in gasoline prices but demonstrators quickly expanded their demands to cover calls for more political freedom and other issues.
The government, which launched the bloodiest crackdown on demonstrators in the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic, blamed foreign enemies for stoking tensions.
An official denied any order by the authorities to block the internet, which was shutdown for about a week in the November unrest.
The semi-official news agency ILNA quoted an informed source at the Communications and Information Technology Ministry as saying mobile internet access to overseas sites was blocked by "security authorities" in Alborz, Kurdestan and Zanjan provinces in central and western Iran and Fars in the south.
"According to this source, it is possible that more provinces will be affected by the shutdown of mobile international connectivity," ILNA said.
Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said on Twitter: "Confirmed: Evidence of mobile internet disruption in parts of #Iran ...real-time network data show two distinct drops in connectivity this morning amid reports of regional outages; incident ongoing."
The shutdown appeared to be spreading.
"I just checked myself and asked a friend, and the internet is off on our mobiles," a resident in Ahvaz, the capital of the oil-rich Khuzestan province, told Reuters.
But a communications ministry spokesman denied there was an order to shut down the internet. "No such order has been issued by the judiciary or other relevant authorities. The Fake News are at work," Jamal Hadian said in a Twitter post.
In Alborz province, one of the areas affected by the shutdown, authorities this week arrested the parents of a young man who was shot dead during the protests, after pressuring them to call off a commemoration for their son scheduled for Thursday, citing concerns it could create unrest.
The internet blockage made it difficult for protesters to post videos on social media to generate support and also to obtain reliable reports on the extent of the unrest.
Security forces have been on alert for any events that could spark more unrest after 1,500 people were killed in less than two weeks after protests erupted on Nov. 15, according to a Reuters report.
That figure is much higher than estimates by international human rights groups and was dismissed as "fake news" by a spokesman for Iran's top state security body.
The United States imposed sanctions on Iran's communications minister last month for his role in "widescale internet censorship," a reference to the nationwide shutdown.
Iran has blamed "thugs" linked to exiles and foreign foes - the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia - for stirring up unrest through social media.
During the protests, hundreds of banks and public buildings were attacked and damaged.


Dubai government employees to start returning to work on Sunday

Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road deserted during the coronavirus curfew imposed by authorities. (AFP)
Updated 31 min 44 sec ago

Dubai government employees to start returning to work on Sunday

  • Emirate is ‘heading in the right direction’ as it gradually reopens following success in handling pandemic

DUBAI: Half of Dubai’s government employees can return to their offices on Sunday, and the rest will be able to go back on June 14, the emirate’s government announced Wednesday.

The return to work will, however, be made with “intensified precautionary measures,” to protect workers, Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed said. 

“Our investments in the future paid off sooner than expected,” he also said on Twitter. “It is reassuring to know we’re heading in the right direction.”

Many businesses across retail, entertainment, sports and fitness industries have already been allowed to reopen. On Monday, Dubai announced it would be easing restrictions on movement, allowing people to move freely between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. from Wednesday. 

Sheikh Hamdan also hailed the Dubai government’s handling of the crisis, saying no “vital services were affected despite the precautionary measures and movement restrictions imposed.”

The UAE reported 31,086 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday; with more than half of those infected having recovered. The country’s death toll currently stands at 253.