Hamid Enayat ( @h_enayat )
Iranian regime had never been in such a difficult situation

Iran is going through a very tough period both for the ruling theocracy and the people. Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian regime’s president, addressing a meeting of number of officials in Tehran, openly admitted that the country had never been in such a difficult situation.  

Last November, the regime’s nightmare became a reality. People who could no longer tolerate economic hardship created by the regime poured out on streets following a threefold rise in gasoline price. 

Although the regime expected some protests and was prepared for it, but its ferocity was unexpected. The regime wanted to relieve itself from some of the pressures by putting the burden on people, as it has done so for year, but not this time. People across Iran, simultaneously went out on streets not just to protest against price rise, but to call for regime change; “Down with the dictator” they shouted. “We will die but we will eventually take Iran back.” This was a clear message to the authorities, but, unable to meet people’s basic demands, or unwilling to, the regime had to resort to utmost brutal suppression. 

Shooting at people directly into their heads and critical parts were reminiscent of the early years of the revolution in 1980s. Killing opponents went on over the decades in secret and in prisons and hundreds went missing but the regime refrained from shoot to kill in public in fear of public outrage but could not this time. The regime had no choice but commit itself to the last resort for survival. Brutality was at its limit. Videos showed security forces shooting at point blank range and in one instant it was filmed axing a protester to death before the bewildered eyes of people. 

The regime could not allow these scenes to be seen outside Iran to avoid pressure from international public opinion. It had to cut off Iranians from outside world to conceal its brutality. The internet had to be shut down. 

Amnesty International in its November 19 press release wrote, “On 16 November, less than a day after the protests began, the authorities implemented an ongoing near-total shutdown of the internet, shutting off nearly all means of online communications for people inside Iran. The resulting information blackout is a deliberate attempt by the authorities to prevent people from sharing images and videos of the deadly force being used by security forces.” It went on, “Shutting down communications over the internet is a systematic assault on the right to freedom of expression and suggests that the authorities have something to hide.” 

Reporters Without Borders on November 20 condemned internet shut down and said, “We deplore this latest crackdown on freedom of information in Iran and we urge David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to intercede as quickly as possible to protect Iranians’ fundamental rights… The Iranian regime must adhere to its obligations to respect international standards and put a stop to all digital discrimination.”

Some news outlets reported that “It was the fear of such footage reaching the outside world that prompted the authorities in Iran to shut down access to the internet for more than eight days.”

UN human rights experts expressed grave concerns about the situation in Iran as protests spread across the country and said, “Warnings from Iranian authorities that decisive action may be taken if protests do not cease raise serious concerns that the situation could deteriorate further.” 

The world appears to be concerned as they can see that the protests are not going to cease due to the situation in Iran. But the world needs to take some decisive action too to prevent bloodshed in Iran. European Union must take lead in this respect instead of focusing on trade with the repressive dictatorship, especially now that the regime is struggling to hold on to power with ultimate brutality. 

Iranians are making major sacrifices to bring change to Iran, which would mean change to the whole region for a more secure and peaceful area. But, they deserve outside support and need to be heard by the world. 

To this end, full internet access, as the most basic right, must be secured for the people who are standing for their rights and freedom. Europe must come with specific plans to ensure unhindered internet access for Iranians, by both political and economic pressures on the regime and technical support to the people. This also gives a decisive signal to Iranian authorities that internet shut down will not be tolerated and will be countered with some consequences. This is indeed in line with the United Nations resolution June 2016 that condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law and calls on all States to refrain from and cease such measures.

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