Iran is now in the “midst of a near-total national internet shutdown,” according to NetBlocks, an international non-profit that monitors cybersecurity and cyber-threats worldwide, including threats that come from powerful governments.
The dropoff in connectivity began Saturday night, as Iran’s government cracked down on political unrest stemming from fuel shortages — unrest that has now spread to more than 100 cities across the country. NetBlocks tweeted a visual representation of how swiftly Iranian leaders were able to “shut off” any connection to the larger web, ostensibly to curtail protesters’ ability to organize over social media, text message, and email.
Confirmed: #Iran is now in the midst of a near-total national internet shutdown; realtime network data show connectivity at 7% of ordinary levels after twelve hours of progressive network disconnections as public protests continue #IranProtests 📉
📰 https://t.co/1Al0DT8an1 pic.twitter.com/u6bVsfvOOm
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) November 16, 2019
“Internet is completely shut-down and I can’t communicate [with] anyone,” one defense analyst, posting videos and photos of the unrest from inside the country, said on social media late Saturday, according to TechCrunch. “People just can call abroad (just certain countries) using telephone which is being monitored.”
Some messages are leaking through, it seems, but the outage is clearly strategic. Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei was able to tweet out a message condemning Israel for its “occupation”of Palestine Sunday morning and denying that criticism of Jews is inherently anti-Semitic.
We are with the people and for the independence of #Palestine; we are not #antiSemitic. The Jews live completely safely in our own country, #Iran. pic.twitter.com/U6UsvFVEEm
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 15, 2019
The protests, which turned violent over the weekend, began late last week after the Iranian government announced that it would be raising fuel prices 50%, the Associated Press reports. Iran is trying to make up the financial losses it has suffered since the United States re-instituted strict sanctions, limiting Iran’s access to the global fuel market.
The sanctions have crippled Iran’s already weak economy, and protesters complain that they “have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the collapse of the national currency.”
“Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes since its 1979 Islamic Revolution,” according to The Associate Press. “Gasoline in the country remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping 50% to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter. That’s 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. A gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. costs $2.60 by comparison.”
Over the weekend, the protests grew increasingly as they spread from just a handful of cities to nearly 100 and the government began its expected crackdown. Fires raged, and clashes between demonstrators and Iranian security forces erupted Saturday as the government moved to quell the unrest. At least three people have died, according to Iran’s state-run media, but those numbers are unreliable. Tens of thousands of people are said to be taking part in the demonstrations, according to individuals reporting from on the scene.
Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazil announced Saturday that security forces, including Iran’s notoriously harsh Revolutionary Guard, will continue to “take action” against protesters accused of “vandalism,” per CNN.
In a last-ditch effort to quell unrest, the Ayatollah announced his support for the gas price hike and tried to convince Iranians that the demonstrations were being fomented by outside sources, according to Reuters.
“Some people are no doubt worried by this decision, but sabotage and arson is done by hooligans, not our people,” the “Supreme Leader” said in a televised address. “The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so. Unfortunately some problems were caused, a number of people lost their lives and some centers were destroyed.”