Experts: Iran Disrupts Internet; tower collapse deaths at age 36

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran cut off Internet access to the outside world as angry demonstrators protested a tower collapse in the country’s southwest that has killed at least 36 people, experts said Tuesday as the anger and pain continued to grow.

The outage plunged the province into digital isolation, making it difficult for journalists to authenticate events on the ground and for activists to share images and organize protests.

It’s a tactic that the Iranian government has repeatedly employed in times of unrest, rights activists say, in a country where television and radio stations are already state-controlled and journalists face the threat of arrest.

Internet interference in the oil-rich Khuzestan province began in early May, weeks before the fatal collapse, said Amir Rashidi, director of Internet security and digital rights at Miaan Group, which focuses on digital security in The middle east. The province, home to an ethnic Arab population that has long alleged discrimination, was a flashpoint in protests over the sinking economy and Staple food prices skyrocket.

Disruptions then intensified in the area after the collapse of the Metropol building last week, according to data shared by the Miaan Group.

The disaster sparked widespread anger in Abadan, where residents alleging government neglect gathered every night at the collapse site to shout anti-Islamic slogans. Videos of the protests have circulated widely online, with some showing officers beating and firing tear gas at protesters.

The images analyzed by The Associated Press were of known features in Abadan, about 660 kilometers (410 miles) southwest of the capital, Tehran. The number of victims and arrests remains unclear.

In response to the protests, Iranian authorities have sometimes completely shut down the Internet and other times only allowed strictly controlled use of a home intranet, the Miaan Group reported.

During the day, the authorities also appear to have restricted bandwidths to make it difficult for people to share large files, such as videos, without leaving Abadan entirely, said Mahsa Alimardani, a senior researcher at Article 19, an international organization that fights censorship. .

Last Friday, so huge Crowds took to the streets to shout against high officials, a kind of digital barricade was erected between Iran and the world, the data showed. Only certain government-approved domestic websites are allowed to transmit content, but not foreign-based websites.

“There’s been a pattern that we’ve seen when it gets dark where Google doesn’t work but the Supreme Leader’s website works fine,” Rashidi said.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, rescue teams pulled three more bodies from the rubble on Tuesday, raising the death toll to 36 amid fears more people could be trapped in the rubble. Five of the victims were schoolchildren, the official IRNA news agency reported. Another 37 people were injured in the collapse, and two remain hospitalized.

Authorities have blamed the building’s structural failure on shoddy construction practices, lax regulation and entrenched corruption, raising questions about the safety of similar towers in the earthquake-prone country. Authorities reported that they evacuated residents from buildings near the disaster site for fear that the remaining structure of Metropol would collapse.

The mounting political and economic pressures come as talks to restore Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers have stalled. Hostilities have intensified as Iran ramps up its nuclear program far beyond the limits of the nuclear deal and last week seized two Greek tankers on a key oil route across the Persian Gulf.

In a sign of those rising tensions, Iran’s Foreign Ministry sharply criticized the International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday for its quarterly report released the day before on Iran’s nuclear program.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh rebuked the report’s findings that Iran’s highly enriched uranium stockpiles had increased 18-fold since the 2015 nuclear deal as “not fair or balanced.”

The UN nuclear watchdog also said Iran has yet to explain traces of uranium particles that IAEA inspectors found at undeclared former sites in the country, a sore point between Iran and the agency despite a recent push for a resolution by June.

Khatibzadeh said the agency’s statements “did not reflect the reality of the talks between Iran and the agency.”

“The agency should be vigilant and not destroy the path that we trodden, with difficulty,” he told reporters in Tehran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian referred to the stalling of indirect negotiations with the United States over the collapsed nuclear deal, telling reporters that he brought Iranian concerns to Vice President Kamala Harris through a third party when they were in Munich earlier this year.

Iran has repeatedly demanded assurances that no future president could unilaterally abandon the deal, as former President Donald Trump did in 2018. The White House has said it cannot make such a commitment.

Amirabdollahian said he had asked the mediator to “tell Ms. Kamala Harris that if a group of rebels is going to take over the White House, could she let us know?”

“Even if the rebels take power, they must be committed to international agreements,” Amirabdollahian said.

The White House has not acknowledged any such message.

In a recent interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Albusaidi said his country was “always ready to help” when asked if Muscat was organizing new secret talks between Iran and the US. nuclear deal

“I am hopeful that we can achieve a new dynamic to reach an agreement,” he said. “It is in the interest of our region and the world.”

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