Severe disruptions of Internet services are being reported in Iran a week into protests over water shortages that has seen at least three people killed.
Netblocks, a web-outage monitor, attributed part of the disruption to “state information controls or targeted Internet shutdowns.”
It identified the outages as beginning on July 15, when the protests started in the southwestern province of Khuzestan. As of July 21 the outages were still being reported, it said.
Iran has tightened its control over the Internet in recent years in an effort to limits street protesters’ ability to communicate and spread videos of the demonstrations.
According to NetBlocks, its analysis and user reports were “consistent with a regional Internet shutdown intended to control protests.”
The effects represents “a near-total Internet shutdown that is likely to limit the public’s ability to express political discontent or communicate with each other and the outside world,” it added.
Iran is facing its worst drought in at least 50 years, a natural event exacerbated by poor water management that has hit agriculture and left dams with little water supply. Parts of the country have also experienced weeks of electricity blackouts.
The protests also come as Iran struggles through another wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy suffers under U.S. sanctions. Thousands of workers in its oil industry have launched strikes for better wages and conditions.
In the latest wave of demonstrations, protesters took to the streets of a number of cities and towns in oil-rich Khuzestan, including in the provincial capital, Ahvaz, before spreading to other provinces.
Video posted on social media purportedly showed street protests taking place late on July 21 in the western province of Kermanshah, as well as Isfahan in the center and Bushehr to the south.
There have been gatherings in support for the Khuzestan protesters in Tehran, while actors, athletes, activists, as well as a number of Iranian labor unions and associations also called attention to the demonstrations.
Clips shared on social media in recent days showed demonstrators blocking roads and chanting slogans against the country’s theocratic government and its head, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as security forces try to disperse crowds with tear gas. In some videos, what appears to be the sound of gunfire can be heard.
Officials so far have confirmed the death of two young demonstrators in the protests that broke out on July 15, but unofficial reports put that number at five.
Human rights groups say the two were killed by security forces, an accusation rejected by the local government.
Iranian officials in the past have blamed protesters for deaths occurring during heavy-handed crackdowns by security forces.
In comments aired by state television on July 22, outgoing President Hassan Rohani said that “people who are living in 50 degrees Celsius with water-shortage problems have a natural right to speak out and protest.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told journalists that Washington was following closely reports that Iranian security forces fired on protesters.
“We support the rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and express themselves…without fear of violence, without fear of arbitrary detention by security forces,” he said.