LONDON: Internet access was restricted across Iran on Tuesday after widespread anger on social media over death sentences handed to three protesters.
A Farsi hashtag translated as #DontExecute began trending globally on Tuesday evening according to Radio Farda, and Iranian activists — including the exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi, the son of deposed Shah Mohammad — circulated its English equivalent #StopExecutionInIran.
The online rallying call was prompted by a decision from Iran’s judiciary to uphold the death penalty of three men accused of taking part in anti-regime protests in November last year.
Saeed Tamjidi, 26, Mohammad Rajabi, 28, and Amirhossein Moradi, 26, were arrested in large-scale demonstrations that swept the country fueled by economic hardship and rising petrol prices.
After initially being released, they were convicted of a range of offenses including sabotage, armed robbery and illegally fleeing the country during a closed trial in January.
Tuesday’s verdict sparked a sharp rise in people using the hashtag on social media, including prominent influencers, politicians and sportspeople. Former vice-president Mohammad Ali Abtahi and national team footballer Hossein Mahini were among those calling for the government to listen to the people’s demands.
“An important part of this system, in case of protests, believe that measures should be toughened so they (protesters) don’t get brazen,” Abtahi wrote. “I have written many times that the system does not have the chance to be stubborn.”
At the same time the hashtag was trending, internet monitoring group NetBlocks.org said service providers linked to Iran’s security apparatus began slowing internet connection speeds.
The group also reported disruption to internet access across Iran, saying: “Significant disruption to multiple networks in #Iran” occurred at 9:30 p.m. local time and impacted “citizens’ ability to communicate.”
The Iranian government regularly and increasingly blocks access to the internet — a process called “throttling” — during episodes of unrest or during widespread demonstrations.
Iranian officials said Tuesday that appeals made by the three men against their death sentences had failed. Lawyers for the three men said they have had no access to the case and that their clients’ confessions were “extracted under aberrant conditions.”
In an open letter published online, the lawyers called for a judicial review, citing fears the three men could be put to death in the immediate future.
“We have repeatedly stated that we have not been permitted to defend (our clients) and that they have no information about their trials,” the letter said.
Calls from the public for death sentences of those who took part in last year’s protests to be dropped have grown in Iran since November, especially on social media.
An estimated 251 people were executed in Iran in 2019, according to Amnesty International, which is the second highest tally in the world after China. The regime has also issued a number of new death sentences in recent weeks.
Amnesty on Tuesday demanded Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stop the execution of Tamjidi, Rajabi and Moradi.