How the government of Iran managed to "disconnect" almost the entire country from the internet for days and amid protests


Iranian woman

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Protests spread rapidly throughout the country.

A country of 80 million people, and virtually no way to connect to the internet.

It is not the first time that the government in Iran blocks access to the internet, but on Saturday night it canceled the service to almost all its citizens in the biggest blackout of the web that has been in the country.

The "blackout" still continued on Wednesday, which has generated international concern

According to the specialists, the reason is clear: to prevent access and exchange of information about the protests that broke out on Friday in the country over a drastic increase in fuel prices.

"Reports indicate that dozens of people have died in continuing protests in Iran, some because of gunfire," the United Nations said Tuesday.

Amnesty International (AI), meanwhile, said it has received reliable reports that at least 106 protesters in 21 cities They died The authorities deny it.

"Any number of victims not confirmed by the Government is speculative and unreliable," the spokesman for Iran's mission to the UN, Alireza Miryusefi, told the AI ​​report on Twitter.

Protests broke out after the government announced that the price of gasoline would increase by 50%.

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the decision was made in the public interest.

President Hassan Rouhani said the decision had been made "in the public interest" and that the money generated would be distributed among the neediest in the country.

The measure, however, was met with anger in a country whose economy is already under pressure from the sanctions that the United States restored last year.

  • How can the new sanctions imposed by the United States affect Iran?
  • What are the 8 countries that can buy oil from Iran despite US sanctions?

According to some reports, the protests they spread rapidly across the country with wide damage in public and private facilities.

"We are deeply concerned about reports of violations of international norms and standards on the use of force, including gunfire at protesters, in Iran," said Rupert Colville, a UN spokesman.

The situation in the country, however, is not clear due to the blockade of internet and mobile telephony imposed by the authorities on Saturday.

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Extensive damage was reported at gas stations, banks and stores.


The Iranian government denounced the protesters as "troublemakers" and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi confirmed on Monday that The government had ordered the blockade on Saturday.

The official said on the official television channel that the service would be restored "soon." But until Wednesday the communication remained blocked.

According to NetBlocks, an organization that monitors internet access in the world, 65 hours after the government in Iran implemented an almost total blackout in the country, connectivity in Iran worked at only 4% of its normal levels.

Iran is not the only one that imposes Internet blockades to prevent the spread of information. China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India and Turkey, among others, have made use of restrictions and blockages to websites to limit access to content to their citizens.

But as NetBlocks indicates, this is the most extensive block that the organization has registered.

"The continued disruption is the most severe that has been registered in Iran since President Rouhani came to power, and the most severe disconnection that has been registered by NetBlocks in any country in terms of its technical complexity and scope," the group said. .

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Netblocks has been monitoring the internet blockade in Iran.


How in less than 24 hours can internet access be suspended in a country with a population of 80 million inhabitants?

The experts assure That is not an easy task. Some countries, which designed their internet infrastructure with the aim of censoring and maintaining control of the web, can simply access a "central switch" and block the network.

But in other nations, such as Iran, the internet infrastructure is made up of a series of private and public networks. And "turning off" the Internet in the country requires multiple "switches" and sending multiple orders to different parties involved.

"To turn off internet access in a country many preparations are needed "he told the magazine Wired Luckasz Olejnik, researcher at the Center for Technology and Global Affairs at the University of Oxford. "We are talking about layers of software and hardware and also regulatory frameworks."

"The more networks and connections a country has, the harder it is to cut off access. And the question is whether you want to cut off access to networks within the country as well as the flow between the country and the outside world."

National "Intranet"

But since 2009 Iran has focused on the design and installation of a National Information Network, a kind of national "intranet."

The network, which is managed by the State Telecommunications Company of Iran, offers citizens internet services and at the same time the authorities can monitor all the content of the network and limit the information that comes from external sources.

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The internet blockade began on Saturday, 24 hours after protests broke out.

That is, as the network hosts digital platforms within the country, it can potentially be disconnected from the global internet. And the authorities can block or filter content and disconnect from the global network platforms that do not adhere to their strict regulations.

Thus, while it has been establishing this internal network, the Iranian regime has been acquiring more and more control in both public and private connectivity.

"Since 2009, when the Iranian authorities understood the internet's potential to promote dissension, the government has been trying to implement the National Information Network," he writes in the newspaper.The New York Times Mahsa Alimardani, from the Oxford Internet Institute.

"While they justify it based on national and economic security, in practice this (network) helps them control political expression and minimize economic losses during a total internet block," he adds.

The authorities, of course, have access to all users' rights over their data and to the monitoring and storage of information. And can put pressure on independent suppliers.

This was how in a 24-hour period, Tehran was able to block Internet access to tens of millions of people on Saturday.

That day NetBlocks reported that about 95% of users in Iran saw their internet access suspended. The only ones that They could continue using the network were government agencies and some public universities.

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The protests have affected the main streets of Tehran.

With the blockade on the internet, protesters could no longer share content or report on the protests and how the authorities used force.

And the National Information Network allowed Tehran to impose the blockade while the main electr infrastructureIonic of finance, commerce and hospitals of the country followsior working.

The Minister of Telecommunications itself reported that banks and other financial platforms continued their routine operations despite the blackout.

"The infrastructure of the RNI (National Information Network) has made significant progress," he said, explaining that a "successful transfer" of many Internet services to the RNI took place on Saturday.

Meanwhile, due to the blockade, it becomes more difficult to clarify What is happening in the country.

The BBC's Persian service correspondent, Jiyar Gol, said that "the people inside Iran who have been contacted by BBC Persian make a grim description of the situation."

"There are footage showing security forces firing at protesters, families of the dead say authorities have refused to hand over their bodies," says Gol.

"There is a strong presence of security forces in public squares and main streets, many university students have been arrested and the judicial system has warned that sending videos abroad is a criminal offense," he added.

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