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Pompeo calls for ‘crackdown’ videos, photos as Iran slowly restores internet

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo delivers remarks to staff and families for "Take Your Child to Work Day" at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 25, 2019. (Ron Przysucha/U.S. State Department)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is calling on Iranians to send the United States videos, photos, and other information “documenting the regime’s crackdown” on protesters, as authorities in Iran are slowly easing up on blocking access to the Internet.

“The U.S. will expose and sanction the abuses,” Pompeo wrote in a tweet published late on November 21 in both English and Persian,s Iran’s telecommunications minister said Internet connectivity had returned in some provinces following a near-total shutdown.

NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide Internet access, said that “connectivity to the world remains low at 15% of normal levels.”

The shutdown has made it increasingly difficult to get a clear picture of the deadly protests that spread to some 100 cities and towns across Iran after the government on November 15 announced it was rationing gasoline purchases and cutting subsidies.

Iran is facing growing international condemnation for its crackdown on the protests, which came amid biting U.S. sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from a 2015 nuclear agreement.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights cited reports suggesting that “dozens of people may have been killed and many people injured” and Amnesty International said at least 106 protesters were believed to have died.

Iranian officials acknowledged several deaths, including members of the security forces, and described Amnesty’s figure as “speculative and not reliable.”

They called the protesters “thugs” and suggested the demonstrations were part of a “plot” by Tehran’s “foreign foes.”

A deputy head of the Basij force, a volunteer paramilitary organization, said late on November 21 that the unrest amounted to a “full-fledged world war against the system and the revolution” that had been foiled.

Brigadier General Salar Abnoosh said a “coalition of evil” made up of Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia was behind the “sedition,” according to the semiofficial news agency ISNA.

Earlier, the official website of the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) praised the military for taking “timely action” against “rioters” and suggested that calm had been restored.

There were reports saying that dozens of gas stations, banks, shops, and public property had been damaged or destroyed by protesters.

Meanwhile, Abolhassan Firoozabadi, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme Cyberspace Council, said he believed the Internet would be entirely restored “within the next two days.”

Iranian media reported that Internet service had been restored in several parts of the country, and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi said “other places will also be reconnected” upon the orders of the Supreme National Security Council.

Access via ADSL was partially restored in a number of provinces and for some universities in Tehran as of November 21, according to ISNA.

However, a private IT company told the dpa news agency that LTE connections, which most Iranians use on their phones, remained suspended.

In a Friday prayer sermon broadcast live on state television, senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami called on authorities to keep “foreign networks” blocked after reconnection, saying they were “teaching people to riot [and] commit crimes.”

Khatami is a member of the Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with overseeing the supreme leader’s work and choosing future supreme leaders.

U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Tehran of disconnecting Iranians from Internet access to cover up dozens of killings over the past week amid the protests.

“Iran has become so unstable that the regime has shut down their entire Internet System…thinking the world will not find out the death and tragedy that the Iranian Regime is causing!” he said in a tweet on November 21.

The European Union earlier in the day said it expected Iranian authorities to restore communications and exercise “maximum restraint” in handling the protests, saying the rights to freedom of expression and assembly “must be guaranteed.”

Protesters should “demonstrate peacefully,” spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said, adding that “any violence is unacceptable.”