Mobile internet services in Iran have been disrupted amid ongoing protests against the water crisis in the south-west of the country.
At least three people, including a police officer, were killed in clashes in Khuzestan, state media reported.
The protesters have been calling for action to address water shortages in the oil-rich province for seven consecutive days.
Iranian authorities have blamed the water crisis on a severe drought, noting that rainfall in the region has decreased by nearly 50% in the past year, leaving dams with increasingly scarce water supplies.
But citizens of Khuzestan, a province where a large Arab minority lives, have repeatedly complained that the Iranian regime is leaving them behind.
Prominent lawyers have said that the problem in Khuzestan is due to the illegal theft of water from the forks of the rivers in the region. Outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has described the protests as a “natural right.”
Farsi and Arabic hashtags like #KhuzestanIsThirsty and #KhuzestanHasNoWater have been widely used on social media to draw attention to the crisis and protests.
On Thursday, Internet monitoring observatory NetBlocks confirmed that there had been a “significant regional outage” in mobile Internet service since last week.
Cities in the region, including Ahvaz, Ramhormoz and Susangerd, had experienced “a severe slowdown in internet service or a near total internet shutdown” since July 15, NetBlocks said in a statement.
“[This] it is likely to limit the public’s ability to express political discontent or communicate with each other and with the outside world. “
The organization added that analysis of cellular data indicated that the regional shutdown “was intended to control the protests.”
Although WiFi and landline connectivity remained stable in Khuzestan, Net Blocks noted that the area is reported to be “highly dependent” on mobile data services.
Iran has faced a number of network outages, including during widespread public protests against rising fuel prices in November 2019.
State authorities accused of “acts of violence”
Despite internet shutdowns, several videos have surfaced online of shooting and the use of tear gas by authorities against protesters in Iran.
The group of Human Rights Activists in Iran presented an open letter, signed by more than 130 documentary filmmakers, calling on Tehran to end “acts of violence” against citizens.
“We support the thirsty people of Khuzestan and strongly condemn the repression of the people,” said the letter read.
“As nearly five million Iranians in Khuzestan lack access to clean drinking water, Iran does not respect, protect and fulfill the right to water, which is inextricably linked to the right to the highest attainable standard of health.”
Iran has in the past blamed “rioters” for deaths that occurred amid harsh crackdowns by security forces.
On Wednesday, state media reported that an Iranian police officer was killed during the riots, raising the death toll in the riots to at least three people.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington was closely monitoring reports that Iranian security forces had fired on protesters.
The rallies in Khuzestan come as Iran struggles through repeated waves of infections in the coronavirus pandemic and as thousands of workers in its oil industry have launched strikes for better wages and conditions.
Iran’s economy has also struggled under US sanctions since former President Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw from the Tehran nuclear deal.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism