US promotes internet services in Iran, as Raisi calls for tough response to protests

Blinken explained that the steps were being taken in response to Tehran’s repression of the protests triggered by the death of Zhina (Mahsa) Amini.
Demonstrators hold up images of Amini (Photo: AFP).
Demonstrators hold up images of Amini (Photo: AFP).

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – As protests continued to spread in Iran—triggered by the death on Sept. 16 of a young Kurdish woman in a Tehran hospital, following her detention by the country’s morality police—US authorities announced that they were taking measures to facilitate online communications within Iran.

US Measures to Facilitate Internet Communications

The US effort, which was announced on Friday, focuses on relaxing sanctions on Iran that are related to the internet.

“Today we are issuing a General License to advance our efforts to ensure that the Iranian people can freely access information online,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement issued on Friday.

Blinken explained that the steps were being taken in response to Tehran’s repression of the protests triggered by the death of Zhina (Mahsa) Amini, who was initially detained for not properly wearing a hijab, while she was visiting the Iranian capital.

“The Iranian government has cut off access to the internet for most of its 80 million citizens to prevent them—and the world—from watching its violent crackdown on peaceful protestors,” Blinken affirmed.

“Mahsa Amini is senselessly, tragically dead, and now the government is violently suppressing peaceful protesters rightly angry about her loss,” he continued. “This is a concrete step to provide meaningful support to Iranians demanding that their basic rights be respected.”

Sanctioning Institutions of Iranian Repression

On Thursday, the US announced a series of sanctions in response to the regime’s repression. They target the Morality Police and senior leaders of other security organizations, including the Intelligence Ministry, the Army’s Ground Forces, and law enforcement authorities. The last category includes the Morality Police, but it is not limited to them.

Those sanctioned include Mohammad Rostami Cheshmeh Gachi, head of Iran’s Morality Police, as well as Esmail Khatib, Minister of Intelligence, and Kiyumars Heidari, head of the Iranian Army’s Ground Forces, who was actively involved in suppressing protests in 2019. Some 1,500 people were killed at that time, marking those protests as the largest such unrest in the history of Iran’s 43-year old Islamic regime.

Iran Vows Continued Crackdown

Iranian authorities, however, have given no indication that they are prepared to respect the basic rights of their citizens or to limit the crackdown in any way. Rather, their statements suggest they are preparing for the opposite.

On Saturday, returning from New York where he had addressed the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi asserted that Iran needed to “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquility.”

Presumably, that will herald a tougher crackdown internally.

Notably, the protests have spilled beyond Iran’s borders. In Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, “dozens of Iraqi and Iranian Kurds rallied outside” the UN Compound, Reuters reported on Saturday.

The protestors in Erbil carried “placards with Amini’s photograph,” while they chanted “Death to the Dictator” (Khamenei), the news agency said.

Also on Saturday, Iranian artillery bombed border areas within the Kurdistan Region. As the Norwegian-based, Kurdish human rights group, Hengaw, reported, ”The border heights of the Kurdistan Region—Iraq and the mountains of Barbazin and Saqr”—are “being shelled by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) artillery based in Oshnovieh” in western Iran.

Read More: Iranian artillery shelling targets border areas for second consecutive day

The IRGC claimed it had targeted “anti-Iran terrorist groups,” The Wall Street Journal reported, noting that “the Kurds are one of the world’s largest ethnic groups without an independent state, numbering more than 30 million people across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.”

So far, there have been no reported casualties from Iran’s cross-border shelling, but the protests, within and outside Iran, as well as the violent response of regime authorities, within and outside Iran, are expected to continue.