The Global Network Initiative is deeply concerned about restrictions on internet and messaging services that occurred during recent nationwide protests in Iran.
On December 31, 2017, Iranian authorities blocked access to the messaging service Telegram and photo-sharing service Instagram in order to “maintain peace,” according to reporting on Iranian state television. In addition, citizens in some regions have reportedly experienced disruptions to their cellular networks since the protests began. These restrictions come as internet users now make up almost half of the country’s population, compared to nearly 14% when social media services were restricted after the 2009 protests.
GNI’s multi-stakeholder membership collectively agree that mandating disruptions of communications services and online platforms risks restricting internationally recognized rights to free expression and access to the internet. In July 2016, a unanimous resolution of the UN Human Rights Council “condemn[ed] unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law and call[ed] on all States to refrain from and cease such measures.”
GNI joins others in the international community in urging Iran to respect citizens’ right to free access to communication services and expression. On Jan. 5, UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye and three other UN experts expressed concerns about the human rights risks posed by the governments’ response to the protests, noting that “communication blackouts constitute a serious violation of fundamental rights.”
While GNI recognizes the legitimate role of governments to protect public safety, disruptions can have an adverse effect on that very objective, preventing citizens’ access to vital emergency, payment and health services, suspending business operations, and cutting off people’s contact to family and friends.
GNI released a report in October 2016, “The Economic Impact of Disruptions to Internet Connectivity,” highlighting the significant economic damage caused when countries deliberately shut down or otherwise disrupt services and platforms. In July 2017, GNI issued a one-page guide aimed at governments who may consider mandating disruptions. For more of GNI’s work on this issue, visit globalnetworkinitiative.org/shutdowns.