Users in Iran are finding it increasingly difficult to access the internet in the lead-up to pro-opposition demonstrations on 14 February called for by the Coordination Council of the Green Path of Hope, a leading decision-making body within the protest movement.
The protests will mark the first anniversary of opposition demonstrations held in solidarity with the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings that toppled the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes in early 2011. At least two protesters were shot dead and hundreds were reportedly detained by security forces.
Shortly after the street protests, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, who had been spearheading the opposition Green Movement since the rigged presidential elections of June 2009 and had called for the solidarity marches, were placed under house arrest along with their wives. Karroubi’s wife Fatemeh Karroubi was later released. Rights groups say their detention violates international human rights conventions as well as Iran’s own constitution.
In a recent statement, Amnesty International called on Iranian authorities to “respect freedom of assembly and allow peaceful demonstrations in Tehran and elsewhere in Iran on 14 February 2012.” The organisation called for the “immediate” release of Mousavi, Karroubi, Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard and “anyone held solely for the peaceful expression of their right to freedom of expression, association or assembly or in connection with their beliefs.” It said it was “deeply concerned” at the regime’s increasingly heavy-handed repression of dissent, especially ahead of scheduled parliamentary elections on 2 March.
On Friday, the Coordination Council of the Green Path of Hope, the Green Movement’s most prominent decision-making authority, urged Iranians to express their protest of the country’s autocratic rulers, but also any form of foreign intervention in Iran such as a international sanctions and war. The council’s statement argued that the regime was neither “Islamic” nor a “Republic,” while accusing the political elite of “sacrificing liberty for authoritarianism and the lust for power and wealth.” “They have sacrificed [our] independence for their own economic and security interests in joining hands with China and Russia. They have deepened poverty and class polarisation in society, while endangering national security with the threat of war through their adventurous policies.”
The Coordination Council’s calls for protests has been backed by other opposition groups, including the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution, a major reformist group, with many of its members either in Iranian prisons or awaiting jail time.
Tehran Province governor Morteza Tamaddon, told the Young Journalists’ Club on Saturday that the security forces were prepared to quell dissenters on Tuesday. “We will confront them with readiness and by equipping Tehran with all the security systems,” he warned.
Tamaddon downplayed the significance of the upcoming street demonstrations, describing them as a “propaganda pose.” “Their public call [for protests] is an attempt to impact the people’s participation in rallies on 11 February [in commemoration of the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution] and the 2 March [parliamentary elections].”
Although the actual street protests are not scheduled before Tuesday afternoon, for many, the protests will begin on the night of 13 February and atop rooftops when they chant “Allah-O-Akbar,” meaning “God is Greatest.” In recent weeks, some Green Movement activists have advocated blowing whistles as a safer and more efficient alternative to shouting.
Meanwhile, since Thursday, many Iranian internet users have not being able to check their emails, leading many to accuse the regime of intentionally reducing internet access in preparation for the planned demonstrations on Tuesday. Iranian officials regularly tamper with internet access in order to control the free flow of information, especially ahead of and during opposition protests.
Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Saturday that more than thirty million Iranians were unable to log onto their emails account. Most Iranians use foreign-based email service providers for communication. According to Mehr, the Telecommunication Company of Iran and the Telecommunication Infrastructure Company had failed to provide “clear” explanations for the disruptions.