Iran Throttles Internet After Anti-Execution Hashtag Goes Viral

Internet access in Iran was disrupted Tuesday after a campaign against the country's death penalty went viral on social media, prompted by death sentences for anti-government protesters.

The Persian hashtag #DontExecute began spreading around the world on Tuesday, rising to the top of the international trending list according to Radio Farda. Soon after, internet monitoring websites reported access being throttled across the country.

A broad range of groups and activists took up the call, including exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi—the son of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who was deposed by the Iranian Revolution—who circulated the English version of the hashtag: #StopExecutionsInIran.

Internet monitoring groups reported that Iranian service providers linked to the regime's security services began slowing connection speeds.—one such watchdog—tweeted: "Significant disruption to multiple networks in #Iran" at 9:30 p.m. local time, which had undermined "citizens' ability to communicate."

NetBlocks said Wednesday that the disruption lasted for around three hours, describing the incident as having a "partial impact" across multiple providers.

The Iranian regime habitually cuts internet access and blocks social media sites during periods of unrest. Last year, Iranian users faced extended internet disruption as protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against a new fuel tax, as well as generally poor living conditions and sluggish economic performance. But this time internet access was cut even though there were no public demonstrations.

The social media protest was sparked by the Tuesday announcement of death sentences for three men who had taken part in anti-government protests in November. The State Department estimated that more than 1,500 Iranians were killed by security forces crushing the movement. Also Tuesday, two Kurdish political prisoners were sentenced to death.

Iranian officials repeatedly voiced support for anti-government protests in the U.S. in recent months, urging protesters to push back against systemic racism and police brutality in the U.S. But at the same time, Tehran was persecuting ethinic minorities in the country plus jailing and executing political prisoners.

Top officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif even expressed their support for American protesters using Twitter, which remains banned in Iran.

Iran is believed to have executed more than 251 prisoners in 2019, second in the world only to China which killed more than 1,000. The U.S. executed 22 people in 2019.

Amnesty International posted a statement on Twitter on Tuesday calling on Khamenei to repeal the death sentences against the three protesters. "Their trial was unfair & they said they were subjected to torture through beatings, electric shocks and being hung upside down," the human rights organization wrote.

Iran, internet, social media, execution, death penalty
Iranian protesters gather around a fire during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the capital Tehran, on November 16, 2019. -/AFP via Getty Images/Getty