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.”