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Iranians Fear Another Internet Shutdown

December 24, 2019
IranWire Citizen Journalist
7 min read
Access to the internet was cut off after nationwide protests over the rise in gas prices started. It took between one week and 22 days for various cities to be reconnected
Access to the internet was cut off after nationwide protests over the rise in gas prices started. It took between one week and 22 days for various cities to be reconnected
Iranians, both inside and outside the country, are extremely worried that the government will shut down the internet again, depriving them of vital news and the ability to communicate
Iranians, both inside and outside the country, are extremely worried that the government will shut down the internet again, depriving them of vital news and the ability to communicate

Iranians are bracing themselves for another internet shutdown as the country prepares to mourn those killed during November’s protests on December 26. 

Over the last few days, people have been downloading and sharing apps and securing their social media user IDs in anticipation of the possible block. 

On November 16, the Iranian Supreme National Security Council ordered the shutdown of the internet following the eruption of nationwide protests against the rise in gas prices. It took between a week and 22 days for various cities to be reconnected, and many Iranians now have a sense of foreboding that authorities might take the same measures in late December during the traditional mourning ceremonies. The father of Pouya Bakhtiari, a young man of 28 who was shot dead by anti-riot police on the first day of the November protests, has urged people across Iran to commemorate those who lost their lives during the protests.

Prior to the November 2019 blackout, authorities shut down the internet in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election, and even earlier in 2019, the internet was cut off while tests were carried out on the National Information Network. But the November 2019 shutdown was unprecedented. Never had access to the internet been blocked for such a sustained period of time, with such a blanket effect. Iranians had been cut off from the world, with no access to news inside or outside Iran. Anxious Iranians based in other countries had to piece together news from what little information managed to make its way out.

The block did not apply to everyone, however, and some people were allowed access to the internet, including various ministries, pro-government media outlets and a group of journalists to whom the communications ministry granted special access [Persian link]. There were also pro-regime activists who, using false account names, supported the shutdown, as did many Friday Imams. Among them was Tehran’s Friday Imam, who warned:  “Do not open up the internet.”

The shutdown created a raft of problems — for people wanting to share information, but also for people trying to simply do their jobs or gain access to healthcare. The health sector and hospitals were badly affected by the censorship measures. Patients’ access to doctors and medicine was disrupted, as was the transmission of X-rays and test results. Online businesses suffered great financial losses and are still coping with the aftermath, worrying whether their businesses will be able to survive these losses.


A Sense of Abandonment

During the last shutdown, even ordinary people’s daily routines were disrupted: web searches, sending emails, chatting with friends and family in Iran and abroad, sharing pictures on Instagram — all habits once taken for granted, were suddenly impossible tasks. As a result Iranians felt enormous psychological pressure. “Besides the disruption of many work-related activities, when the internet and communication tools are cut off — for whatever reason — people become nervous and uneasy and suffer from a sense of abandonment,” one person commented on social media.

“I have the feeling of a prisoner who is about to be deprived of his food, as meager as it is, and his ration is to be reduced to a small piece of dried bread,” an analyst said when asked about people’s worries about the internet being shut down again. “All my connections, my job and my research is online. The only thing that I am able to do these days is to gather and download online books and files that I need. But I have no idea for how long. One month? Six months? It is like we are sitting and waiting for the verdict that will tell us whether we have been sentenced to death or life in prison.”

The analyst said he was “certain” the internet would be shut down again. “And then they will give people who need the internet for their work an official VPN [virtual private network]. Everybody’s use of the internet will be totally controlled. Nobody can do anything that will remain invisible. Filter-breakers will be under surveillance, the internet will be under surveillance and, eventually, we will find ourselves in a prison.”

A homemaker commented that the stress from recent events and the shutdown of the internet has made her physically sick and that she and her friends are looking for a way to leave Iran. “Somebody who never wanted to leave Iran now has to worry how she can manage her everyday life,” she says. “For how long can we continue without the internet? But the conditions for immigrating are now much more difficult. It is like they are trying to expel us from our own country by force and nobody can stop this forced exile. Nobody rained missiles on us but they killed people in the streets and nobody lifted a finger.”

A university student said: “Out of the fear that the internet would be cut off again and we would isolated from the news we bought a TV set and a satellite dish. I never imagined that I would be forced to have a TV at home but now I can neither leave Iran nor do anything else. I can only go to university, walk the same streets where they beat, killed or arrested people and worry about the certainty that they will shut down the internet again.”


The Cage is Getting Smaller and Smaller

“The horror of not getting news from others is really like being in prison and every day this cage is getting smaller and smaller,” said another Iranian during the shutdown. “Every day I have to deal with a sense of being lost and a feeling of desperation. No matter what I try to get to on the internet I arrive at an impasse.”

Iranians who live outside the country have a specific set of worries too. “I am constantly worried about how I can communicate with my family and friends in Iran if they shut down the internet,” one Iranian living abroad said. “It is horrible not to be able to hear from them. Every morning I follow the news to see what new calamity is to befall us.”

Another Iranian living outside the country said: “We have experienced this once and now I think of it like being in hell. It feels like being a prisoner in a cave. If the internet is cut off it is like you are living a hundred years ago. With the internet, I go to Iran every day. With no internet it is like the face of a girl that you loved 20 years ago but you have forgotten her face little by little. If communication with Iran is cut off I will forget the face of Iran after a while and the idea fills me with horror. What will I remember in the long run?”

“For years now I have been participating in weddings, mourning ceremonies, hospital visits and many other events with family and friends,” said another Iranian expatriate. “The day that [Foreign Minister] Javad Zarif used WhatsApp to visit [Iran’s UN Ambassador] Takht-Ravanchi who was ill, he only experienced minutes of what I have been experiencing in the last 10 years of my life. While implicitly cursing the US and giving thanks to technology and the internet, he was happy that he had been able to have this virtual meeting through the internet. Now these same gentlemen are bent on destroying the same chance for me. With the shutdown of the internet I will no longer have the chance to bid farewell to my sick friends and relatives or to pray at their graves or to inquire about the health of my father, my mother, a friend or anybody else dear to me. At the very least the internet gave me this chance.”

Now that Abolhasan Firoozabadi, the secretary of the Supreme Cyberspace Council, has announced that the council has given the communications minister three weeks to come up with a plan to complete the so-called National Information Network, worries about an internet shutdown are growing day by day. Recently, the northern province of Gilan was cut off again from the internet for a night. And during recent nights there have been further reports of internet shutdowns. The Supreme Cyberspace Council has said it will review the communication minister’s plan for three months after it receives it. However, at least one event planned for Thursday, December 26, might hasten another internet shutdown. Many Iranians plan to answer the call of Pouya Bakhtiari's father, who has asked people across Iran to  commemorate those who lost their lives. Iran might be on the cusp of another internet shutdown.


Related Coverage:

Plans for a National Intranet will make Iran more Isolated, 9 December 2019

Who is Responsible for the Internet Shutdown in Iran?, 23 November 2019

Shutting Down the Internet to Get Away with Murder, 19 November 2019

Iran Pulls a “North Korea” by Cutting off Internet in Response to Protests, 17 November 2019

The Iranian Government Censors the Internet and Sells Circumvention Tools, 13 November 2019

Iran’s National Internet: The Next Threat to Free Speech?, 1 April 2016

Iran’s “Halal Internet” and the Battle for Online Freedom, 17 February 2016




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