Iran deliberately shut down internet in November 2019 killings, Amnesty says


Iranian authorities deliberately shut down internet access within the country during nationwide protests in November to hide the true scale of unlawful killings by security forces, Amnesty International said on Monday.

On November 15, 2019, protests erupted across Iran following a government announcement of a significant increase in the price of fuel. During the five days of protests that followed, security forces killed at least 304 men, women and children.

On November 16, authorities started to shut down the country’s internet. Amnesty International’s research shows that day was also the deadliest of the protests, with at least 100 protesters and bystanders killed.

As protests intensified, the Iranian authorities implemented a near-total internet blackout by ordering different internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down.

Observers noted a steady drop in signals, which started when cellular operators were ordered to disconnect around 2pm local time on November 16. By 7pm, Iran had descended into digital darkness.

Iran’s domestic internet remained online, allowing activities such as government services and banking to continue, which minimized financial losses in the country’s economy.

It was only around five days later, at approximately 10am on November 21, that internet access began to be restored. It did not completely return until November 27.

On the anniversary of the deadliest day of the protests, Amnesty International is launching a new microsite, A web of impunity: The killings Iran’s internet shutdown hid, documenting how the lethal crackdown that left at least 304 people dead was hidden from the world.

“When news of the deadly crackdown began to emerge from Iran last November, the world was shocked by the brutal violence of the security forces. The authorities deliberately blocked internet access inside Iran, hiding the true extent of the horrendous human rights violations that they were carrying out across the country,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The government thought they could silence the population by taking the country offline, but the Iranian people were determined to tell the world the truth. Our new website is a tribute to the courage of everyone who capture

The microsite – a joint investigation between Amnesty International and The Hertie School, in partnership with the Internet Outage Detection and Analysis (IODA) project – features more than 100 verified videos from 31 cities, and reveals the repeated use of firearms, water cannons and tear gas by Iran’s security forces against unarmed protesters and bystanders.

To date, no one has been criminally investigated or held accountable for the killings.

Amnesty International is again calling on member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an inquiry into the unlawful killings to ensure those responsible for ordering, planning and carrying out the crimes are brought to justice in fair trials.

Internet shutdowns and human rights

A shutdown happens when a state or another actor intentionally disrupts the internet for a specific population, or within a specific region. Shutdowns take a variety of forms. Authorities may slow down the internet to make access difficult, or they may order ISPs to shut down services completely.

The UN Human Rights Committee has declared that “states…must not block or hinder internet connectivity in relation to peaceful assemblies”.

Since the November 2019 protests, internet access in Iran has been disrupted on several occasions during further protests.

“Access to the internet is essential to protect human rights, especially in times of protest. The Iranian authorities must commit to never again taking the country offline, and must respect the right to peaceful protest,” said Sam Dubberley, Head of Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)