DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) – Iran disrupted Internet access to the outside world as angry demonstrators rallied over the collapse of a tower in the nation’s southwest that has killed at least 36 people, experts said on Tuesday as outrage and grief continued to grow.
The disruption plunged the province into digital isolation, making it difficult for journalists to authenticate events on the ground and for activists to share footage and organise protests.
It’s a tactic the Iranian government has repeatedly employed during times of unrest, rights activists said, in a country where radio and television stations already are state-controlled and journalists face the threat of arrest.
The Internet interference in the oil-rich Khuzestan province started in early May, weeks before the fatal collapse, said Director of Internet Security and Digital Rights at Miaan Group Amir Rashidi.
The province, home to an ethnic Arab population that long has alleged discrimination, was a flashpoint in protests over the sinking economy and skyrocketing prices of food staples.
Disruptions then intensified in the area after the Metropol Building collapse last week, according to data shared by the Miaan Group. The disaster ignited widespread anger in Abadan, where residents alleging government negligence gathered nightly at the site of the collapse to shout slogans against the Islamic Republic.
Videos of the protests have circulated widely online, with some showing officers clubbing and firing tear gas at demonstrators. The footage analysed by The Associated Press corresponded to known features of Abadan, some 660 kilometres southwest of the capital, Tehran. The number of casualties and arrests remains unclear.
In response to the protests, Iranian authorities at times completely shut down the internet and other times allowed only tightly controlled use of a domestic Intranet, reported the Miaan Group.