2019-11-21 by Daisy I.
‘I worry my family is in danger’: Iran’s internet blackout sparks anxiety in Australia
Photo: Rally organisers have said they are concerned for their loved ones in Iran. (ABC news: Zena Chamas)
Damoon Jehani has not spoken to his family in Iran for more than seven months, but with the country’s Government imposing a media blackout and dozens of protesters being reportedly shot dead he fears it could be even longer before he hears their voices again.
- Iranian-Australians hold protests in solidarity with protesters in Iran
- Iranian authorities have shut down internet access to the outside world since Saturday
- A Government crackdown has led to the deaths of at least 106 people, according to Amnesty International
“A lot of us are feeling uneasy. A lot of us are feeling anxious. We have family and friends over there and because of the media blackout. It’s so hard for us to connect with people,” he told the ABC.
On Saturday, Iranian authorities shut down internet access to the outside world after days of protests erupted across the country, sparked by rising fuel prices.
A subsequent Government crackdown killed at least 106 people, according to Amnesty International.
“The Government has respondent to these protests how they usually respond — with execution, mass killings and arrests,” Mr Jehani said.
Mr Jehani was born in Australia and has never been allowed to go back to Iran.
Because of his father’s political activism, the closest he’s been to the country is at its border.
He fears he’ll be persecuted if he goes back.
“It’s too dangerous for us to go — even as children we’ve never been able to go back there,” he said.
After hearing news of the internet shutdown, Mr Jehani and his father organised a rally in Melbourne to show solidarity to the protesters.
“I worry that my family are in danger. [Iran] is a state of fear, it’s a police state,” he said.
‘This is about freedom’
Protests in Iran have spread to over 100 cities across the country, with many calling for the removal of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini and an end to Government oppression.
On Tuesday, Iranian state television showed a video of burned Qurans at a mosque in the suburbs of the capital, Tehran, as well as pro-Government rallies, as part of its efforts to both demonise and minimise the impact of city-wide protests.
This action by state media isn’t a surprise to many Iranian-Australians who rallied in Melbourne chanting for an end what they called a “government dictatorship”.
“It’s been be hard to talk to my family because of the pressure they [the Iranian Government] puts on them — they’re limited,” Mr Jehani said.
“It’s about freedom for them. We’ve seen people going to jail just for standing up and not wanting to wear a hijab.”
While Iran’s Government has not released a toll of those arrested, injured or killed in the protests it disputed Amnesty’s report, calling it “baseless allegations and fabricated figures”.
Amnesty cited “credible reports” for its tally and said it “believes that the real death toll may be much higher, with some reports suggesting as many as 200 have been killed”.
Amnesty’s report showed the hardest-hit areas were the western Kermanshah province and its oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan.
So far, scattered reports in state-run and semi-official media have reported only six deaths.
UN ‘deeply concerned’ for protesters
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on Wednesday saying it was “deeply concerned” about reports of live ammunition being used against demonstrators.
“We are especially alarmed that the use of live ammunition has allegedly caused a significant number of deaths across the country,” spokesman Rupert Colville said in a statement.
The UN also urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully.
Meanwhile, an article published on Tuesday in the hard-line Kayhan newspaper suggested that executions loomed for those who led violent protests.
Though the state-owned newspaper has a small circulation, its managing editor Hossein Shariatmadari was personally appointed by Mr Khamenei.
It also repeated an allegation that protest leaders came from abroad.
Mr Khamenei on Sunday specifically named those aligned with the family of Iran’s late shah, ousted 40 years ago, and an exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.
On Wednesday, thousands of Iranians joined pro-Government rallies in several cities, Iran’s state media reported.
State television showed rallies in the northern city of Rasht, in Gorgan in the northeast and in Shahryar south of Tehran, where a member of the security forces had been killed in the unrest.
State media carried pictures of Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s top security body, marching in Shahryar behind a banner that read: “Death to America and Israel’s deception!”
Iranian President Rouhani claimed victory over unrest he blamed on Iran’s foreign enemies, according to state media.
“The Iranian people have again succeeded at an historic test and shown that they will not let enemies benefit from the situation, even though they might have complaints about the country’s management,” Mr Rouhani said in remarks carried by the state broadcaster IRIB on its website.
Topics: community-and-society, unrest-conflict-and-war, iran-islamic-republic-of, australia