Amnesty: Iran blacked out internet to hide ‘true scale’ of 2019 killings

Crowd fills a street in Tehran on Nov. 16 2019 to protest against fuel increases. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 17 November 2020

Amnesty: Iran blacked out internet to hide ‘true scale’ of 2019 killings

  • ‘Security forces used lethal force unlawfully against the vast majority of protesters and bystanders killed’
  • Regime’s war against freedom of speech ‘is a losing battle,’ Iranian journalist tells Arab News

LONDON: One year since anti-regime protests rocked Iran, a new report by Amnesty International has exposed how Tehran used a massive internet shutdown to hide the “true scale of the unlawful killings by security forces.”

The human rights group on Monday said it had verified 304 people killed by security forces during the November 2019 protests, 23 of them children, but it suspects the real number is far higher.

Tehran instigated a violent crackdown after demonstrations against a huge increase in the price of fuel morphed into widespread protests against the regime.



One of the distinguishing features of the crackdown, Amnesty said, was the implementation of an internet blackout that began on the deadliest day of the protests as a way to “hide the killings.”

Amnesty’s report said: “Security forces used lethal force unlawfully against the vast majority of protesters and bystanders killed, shooting most to the head or torso, indicating intent to kill. To this day, no official has been held accountable for the unlawful killings.”

Mansoureh Mills, Iran researcher at Amnesty, told Arab News that the internet blackout was “a calculated move to stop more than 80 million people inside Iran from reaching the outside world and sharing information about the human rights violations that were being perpetrated by the authorities.”

She said shutting down the internet for an extended period meant that protesters removed recorded evidence of human rights abuses from their phones for fear that it would be used against them if detained.

She added that people interviewed by Amnesty had deleted swathes of evidence documenting human rights abuses for this reason. 

“Imagine all the video footage that has been lost in this way because of the internet shutdown. All of the evidence of crimes and serious human rights violations are gone forever,” said Mills.

She urged the international community to take action through the UN against Tehran. “International accountability is the only way to ensure non-repetition of what we know happened in November 2019, otherwise the Iranian authorities will know that they can get away with killing unarmed men, women and children under the cover of an internet shutdown,” he said.

Sadeq Saba, an editor at Persian-language media organization Iran International, told Arab News that Tehran “is really scared of the internet and social media in general. They can control traditional media and news in the country, but not what people say online and the news coming in from outside the country, so they try to shut down the whole thing.”

The regime’s war against freedom of speech “is a losing battle. Doing things like shutting down the internet may work for a while, but in the end they just become more ridiculous in the eyes of the people,” he said.

“Shutting down the internet doesn’t solve anything. There are deep-rooted problems in the Islamic Republic. The regime is a failure in every sense: Ideologically, economically, politically and diplomatically. They want to run a modern, 21st-century country with rules made in the Middle Ages. This is the root of the problem,” Saba added.

“Iranians are fed up with this regime. They’re doing their best to fight the Islamic Republic, and they’ll continue to do so whether their communications are restricted or not.”


Sudan govt says ‘not aware’ of Israeli delegation visit

Updated 24 November 2020

Sudan govt says ‘not aware’ of Israeli delegation visit

  • A senior Israeli official said on Monday the Jewish state had sent a delegation to Sudan
  • The Israel-Sudan pact has yet to be formally signed

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s government on Tuesday denied having information about the visit of an Israeli delegation to Khartoum announced the day before by an official from Tel Aviv.
“The cabinet is not aware of an Israeli delegation and we have no confirmation that this visit took place,” government spokesman Faisal Mohammed Saleh told AFP.
“We also have no information on a Sudanese delegation visiting Israel.”
On Monday, a senior Israeli official said the state had sent a delegation to Sudan — the first such visit since last month’s announcement of an agreement to normalize relations between the two countries.
Israeli army radio also reported Monday that a trip was underway.
The Israel-Sudan pact has yet to be formally signed.
“We have a pre-existing deal that normalization with Israel should be approved by the transitional parliament,” said Saleh.
Prior to that, “there should not be any form of communication with Israel,” he added.
Sudan has yet to form a parliament since the April 2019 ouster of former president Omar Al-Bashir following mass protests against his rule.
The country has embarked on a rocky transitional period that saw the post-Bashir government seeking to turn the page on its status as an international pariah.
Sudan was the third Arab country this year to announce a normalization deal with Israel, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.