Internet Blackout in Iran: Pompeo Urges Protesting Iranians to Send Images of Regime Crackdown

By Patrick Goodenough | November 22, 2019 | 4:37am EST
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with IRGC brass. (Photo: Office of the Supreme Leader, File)
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with IRGC brass. (Photo: Office of the Supreme Leader, File)

(CNSNews.com) – As the reported death toll in the Iranian protests rises amid ongoing Internet blackouts, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday urged Iranians to send imagery and information on the crackdown to enable the U.S. to “expose and sanction the abuses.”

Earlier, President Trump also tweeted on the subject.

“Iran has become so unstable that the regime has shut down their entire Internet System so that the Great Iranian people cannot talk about the tremendous violence taking place within the country,” Trump said. “They want ZERO transparency, thinking the world will not find out the death and tragedy that the Iranian Regime is causing!”

The number of those killed since the protests began a week ago is unclear, but Amnesty International says according to “credible reports” it has received, at least 106 protesters in 21 cities have been killed. It believes “the real death toll may be much higher.”

The exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)/Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) opposition group puts the number of dead at 251, and has released the names of 85 people it says have been killed, including 18 in Tehran, 11 in Mahshahr, 10 in Javanroud, and eight in Behbahan.

The NCRI/MEK also said at least 3,700 protesters had been injured and at least 7,000 have been arrested, with protests confirmed in at least 146 cities and towns.

The nonprofit organization NetBlocks, which monitors Internet access around the world, earlier called the disruption of the Internet the most severe since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013. It was also “the most severe disconnection tracked by NetBlocks in any country in terms of its technical complexity and breadth.”

After six days of an almost-total shutdown, NetBlocks reported a small return of connectivity on Thursday, although it was still only around eight percent of usual levels.

In English and Farsi tweets, Pompeo said, “I have asked the Iranian protestors to send us their videos, photos, and information documenting the regime’s crackdown on protestors. The U.S. will expose and sanction the abuses.”

He pointed to a channel belonging to the department’s Rewards for Justice program, on the messaging and social media app Telegram.

On its Twitter feed, the Rewards for Justice program said, “As our Secretary of State said, America is with you. Looking forward to hearing from you.”

In a country where, according to the U.N., just over half of the population of 80 million are Internet users, Telegram remains popular despite regime efforts to block access to it.  Even during shutdowns, savvy users have found ways to access the Internet, for example by using service providers in neighboring countries.

The latest round of protests erupted after Rouhani last Friday announced a steep fuel price hike and rationing, but according to human rights groups they quickly broadened in focus.

Anti-regime sentiment is evident in slogans – for instance, denouncing the regime for wasting revenue on foreign adventurism – and in the choice of targets of property damaged by protestors – including state-owned banks and vehicles and buildings associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Iran Human Rights, and others cite reports of security forces opening fire on protesters.

Among clips posted on social media, one purportedly showed a confrontation in the city of Shiraz. Security force members can be seen retreating to their base in the face of unarmed protestors running along a highway towards them. Gunshots can then heard and some of the protestors turn back. Burning vehicles can also be seen near the base gates.



 

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