Saturday , 24 July 2021

A Country Jailed: “Internet Blackout Turns Iran into World’s Largest Prison”

Radiozamaneh – The Iran internet shutdown, which has left most Iranians without access to telecommunications, has left many people inside the country feeling “suffocated”, “imprisoned” and “depressed”. Zamaneh Opinion Panelists share personal accounts of living under the most severe internet shutdown the Islamic Republic has ever imposed on its citizens.

“I’m suffocating. It feels like the government has put its hands around my throat and I’m unable to breathe. All the while, I knew that the government is killing my compatriots. We are hostages here,” writes a 34-year-old self-employed man.

“I feel nothing but darkness. Just darkness.” That is how a 51-year-old man feels about the Internet shutdown.

When the Iranian people woke up in the early hours of Saturday, November 16, they found out that they had been shut off from friends and family by a near complete telecommunications blackout. Internet connections were severed, mobile and landline telephone was unavailable. The blackout affected both national and international telecommunications.

Netblocks monitoring data on mobile internet connection in Iran, 26 November – Irancell (yellow line) has been back online with 95% connectivity, but is now going down; Rightel is still on 25% connectivity and Iran Telecommunication is yet to be connected – Source: Youtube, @netblocks

On Sunday, November 24, nearly ten days after the blackout started, telephone lines and internet connections have slowly started to come back to Iran. National and international telecommunications continue to be significantly disrupted.

A 26-year-old young Baloch man among Zamaneh’s Panelists: “I feel so bad as if I was imprisoned. It has left me completely disconnected from family abroad.”

“I’m depressed by this sense of imprisonment,” writes another panelist from inside Iran.

The hike in gasoline prices triggered a widespread protest movement in Iran that has gone beyond protesting inflation and engulfed more than 100 cities in the country. At least 1000 government buildings, banks, chain stores, fuel pumps, and Shi’a religious seminaries (Hawza’s) have been set on fire. Most of the building that were set on fire were banks (more than 900[1] branches in the whole country).

The anti-riot police and Basiji militia forces have so far been responsible for the killing of 140 citizens (although estimates put the number of death closer to 200) and thousands have been arrested by the security forces. Internet shutdown and the disruption of international telecommunication via mobile and landline telephone was part of the Islamic Republic’s strategy to contain the protests and manage the spread of news and information on the brutality of the crackdown.

The Zamaneh Opinion Panel informs Radio Zamaneh of public sentiment around current affairs issues. Radio Zamaneh typically collects large numbers of opinions to enable statistical analysis of public sentiment around the news.

Zamaneh’s Opinion Panel was launched on May 3, World Press Freedom Day

Because of extremely intermittent connectivity, this time the Zamaneh Opinion Panel was focused on collecting stories and personal accounts of living through the most severe kind of internet shutdown: a total communications blackout.

“Imagine that your hands and feet are tied, there is a blindfold on your eyes, and you have been put in a dark room, threatened by a cowardly dagger. There’s no shelter except for God. Every moment I yearn for a sound, a light or a smell.” This is how a middle-aged man among our panelists describes his experience of internet shutdown.

Zamaneh Media experienced a significant reduction in the number of visitors to its platforms, and starting November 16. Throughout the internet shutdown, a small but consistent number of visitors from Iran were able to get through to Zamaneh’s platforms. This informed the decision to launch an Opinion Panel focused on collecting personal accounts of the shutdown from our community of panelists.

Zamaneh Media typically collected hundreds of opinions in any given panel. In this case, from 21st November to 25th November, 22 Iranians residing in the country among our panelists managed to participate in spite of the telecommunications blackout.

Almost all participants have described their feeling of the shutdown as being “imprisoned” or a “hostage”. Some have described hopelessness, and others depression.

According to the latest statistics released by Communication Regulatory Authority (CRA) of the Islamic Republic, Iran has more than 74 million bandwidth internet subscribers. More than 64 million of them are mobile internet users. This means that the internet penetration rate has increased from 10 percent in the beginning of President Hassan Rouhani’s first term (2013) to 90 percent in 2019.[2]

Living in such an online connected country, Iranians have started a lot of small and medium e-businesses. The internet shutdown disrupted such online businesses.

A 31 year-old-man among our panelists writes: “Unfortunately, today 85 percent of all daily affair are done through internet. Therefore, internet blockage does a lot of damage to people’s financial situation or career.” According to another Azeri 46-year-old man, “the selfishness of politicians has disrupted our work and life”.

Although the Islamic Republic’s officials have announced the return of mobile internet, internet-monitoring group Netblocks data show that only one mobile internet provider (Irancell) is back online with around 70% connectivity. The two other providers have low or zero connectivity: Rightel is still on 25% connectivity and Iran Telecommunication is yet to be connected


[1] Report at Zamaneh Media (Persian):

[2] Mahtab Dehghan; The Virtual World after the State of Siege in Zamaneh Media (Persian):