Iran internet restriction bill takes step forward as water protests rage
A vote on the bill, which calls for “organising social media” and the banning of virtual private network (VPN) software used widely by Iranians to bypass internet restrictions, had been postponed earlier this week.
But in a closed session on Wednesday, Iranian parliament voted to delegate the vote on the controversial bill to its cultural committee, opposition outlet Iran International reported – meaning it would not be debated on the floor of parliament.
Instagram and WhatsApp are the only social media services accessible in Iran, unlike Facebook, Twitter and the Telegram messenger service, all of which are officially banned but can be accessed using a VPN.
The law proposes to replace Instagram with domestic applications such as Rubica, according to Iran International.
News of the bill’s progress while the country continues to face internet restrictions sparked outrage on social media, with the hashtag #InternetShutdown trending on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, protests over poor water supplies are ongoing in southwestern Iran, as the country faces one of the worst droughts in recent memory.
At least eight protesters and bystanders have been killed, Amnesty International said on July 23, eight days after the demonstrations began.
The human rights organisation accused security forces of using live ammunition to disperse demonstrators and crush protesters.
It also called on Iran to “end deliberate ongoing internet disruptions and shutdowns across the province to clamp down on human rights”.
On Wednesday, the Centre for Human Rights in Iran urged Iranian authorities to “restore the internet so that information regarding the state’s actions can be shared both within and outside the country.”
Internet restrictions monitor NetBlocks said last week that Iran had considerably restricted mobile internet access since the water protests began.
⚠️Confirmed: Network data show a significant regional disruption to mobile internet service in #Iran beginning Thursday 15 July 2021 amid widespread protests against water shortages in #Khuzestan Province; incident ongoing 📉— NetBlocks (@netblocks) July 21, 2021
📰 Report: https://t.co/Bq6UWPt71c pic.twitter.com/lIw3wOFvxY
Similar internet restrictions plagued Iran during 2019 protests over a hike in the price of fuel. Around 300 people were killed in those protests, Amnesty said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Iran must not restrict internet access, to allow freedom of expression.