International groups that monitor Internet blockades said on Wednesday mobile Internet access is going down across several provinces in Iran, most likely paving the way for another bloody crackdown on protesters.
Reuters saw all the signs of a fresh crackdown in response to calls on social media for another round of protests, including state media claims that weapons have been seized from subversives supported by the United States and more complaints from the Tehran regime that protests are being organized by agents of hostile foreign governments.
Eyewitnesses report ominous deployments of Iranian troops in urban areas to intimidate potential protesters:
— Farnaz Fassihi (@farnazfassihi) December 26, 2019
Tabriz NW #Iran – a convoy of security forces parades on the streets while the #Iranian regime gets ready for #IranProtests and commemoration ceremonies for slain protesters called on by their families for Dec. 26. pic.twitter.com/ZpNPJz4r9K
— Iran News Wire (@IranNW) December 25, 2019
Iranian officials denied giving orders to partially block the Internet, but inside sources said a blockade was indeed under way and growing, while outside monitors detected significant disruptions:
An official denied any order by the authorities to block the internet, which was shutdown for about a week in the November unrest. A news agency also cited mobile operators saying their services had not been disrupted.
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 producing Khuzestan province, told Reuters.
Some of the areas affected by the Internet disruption featured especially vigorous protest activities and violent responses from the Iranian government, including a province where security forces shot a young protester and then arrested his parents for refusing to cancel his funeral.
Many calls for renewed protests on social media in recent days have urged Iranians to remember the dead and denounce the government for killing them. One popular tag for online protest activity was “See You Thursday.” When Internet blackouts interfered with online coordination, protesters began handing out leaflets with hashtags and other contact information written on them.
The Iranian regime continues denying the extent of the bloodshed during the crackdown last month, but international observers report hundreds were killed. Reuters itself published the highest estimate at 1,500 people killed in less than two weeks in mid-November.
The previous crackdown included extensive government manipulation of Internet access, which the U.S. highlighted by leveling sanctions against Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi.
“Iran’s leaders know that a free and open internet exposes their illegitimacy, so they seek to censor internet access to quell anti-regime protests. We are sanctioning Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology for restricting internet access, including to popular messaging applications that help tens of millions of Iranians stay connected to each other and the outside world,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said when announcing the sanctions in November.
The Jerusalem Post reported confrontations between security forces and demonstrators in several cities on Wednesday night, some of them captured on video and uploaded to social media. Videos from multiple locations showed security troops firing into the air to disperse the protests.