Watchdog: Internet disrupted in Iran amid water protests

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According to an internet watchdog, the Iranian government has cut internet access for the past week during protests in an impoverished province.

There were interruptions in internet access on mobile phones from July 15-20 and the blockade exhausted about 3% to 4% of mobile data in Iran, London-based NetBlocks announced on Wednesday. The group said there were “widespread user reports of mobile network disruptions, consistent with a regional internet shutdown designed to contain protests.”

The disruption came amid protests over a lack of clean drinking water that have occurred several days in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in southwestern Iran. Water levels in the region’s rivers are currently lower due to drought, but some local residents also attribute the water problem to mismanagement. Activists say three people were killed in the protests when security forces fired on the demonstrators.

Internet cuts amid protests are not new in Iran. authorities of the Islamic Republic made an internet outage in 2019 amid widespread anti-government protests in the country. The tactic proved successful, as the demonstrations subsequently died down.

An Iranian activist now based in New Zealand condemned the reports of an internet outage and linked the 2019 blackout to the murders of protesters at that moment.

“The last time the Iranian government shut down the internet, at least 1,500 people were killed in a few days,” Behrouz Boochani wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Restrictions on internet use are the norm in Iran, regardless of protests. In January, Tehran blocked the encrypted messaging app Signal. Twitter has also long been banned in Iran, although government officials regular use the US social media site.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for respect for protest rights on Thursday and attributed the water problems to drought. Iranian parliament official Hossein Amir-Abdollahian blamed the unrest on “terroristsThe Islamic Republic’s official news agency said.

Inhabitants of Khuzestan suffer from frequent power cuts and poor air quality in addition to a lack of sufficient water. According to US-based human rights activists in Iran, about 5 million people there are “water insecure”, and protests are taking place in dozens of cities.

Khuzestan is unique in that it has a large Arab population. There is an Arab separatist group in the province that is in conflict with the Iranian government. Discontent in the region is not new, and last year there were also protests against the lack of drinking water, plus a government crackdown on “separatists” at that moment.

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