Iran topped the list of countries that imposed the highest number of internet restrictions in the first half of this year. Much of the disruption happens during protests, according to new data.
According to figures from cyber security company Surfshark, Iran took the lead globally with 14 new restrictions, followed by India with nine and Pakistan with three. Protests were identified as the main driver of the shutdowns.
Surfshark spokesperson Gabriele Racaityte-Krasauske said that it was "deeply concerning" to see Iran's surge in internet restrictions, particularly following the death of Mahsa Amini and the Zahedan massacre. Amini was a 22-year-old woman who died in a hospital in Tehran in September 2022 under suspicious circumstances. Iran’s morality police had arrested her for not wearing a hijab in accordance with government standards. Eyewitnesses who were detained with Amini say she was severely beaten by police and her death sparked widespread protests against the Iranian government.
Later that month came the Zahedan massacre, a series of violent police crackdowns on protesters that saw at least 96 demonstrators killed and 300 wounded. The killings took place in Iran's southeastern city of Zahedan, which is home to the ethnic Balouch community who are followers of Sunni Islam, under the Shiite-led central government.
Around that time, Iranian authorities imposed more internet blackouts to make it harder for activists to meet and plan demonstrations. "These restrictions severely limit people’s ability to spread information to the rest of the world, organize protests and contact friends and loved ones,” said Racaityte-Krasauske.
Iran has already surpassed its total number of internet restrictions from 2022 (11) in the first half of 2023.
Asian countries accounted for 71% of the new internet disruptions, according to Surfshark’s Internet Shutdown Tracker.
India’s restive Jammu and Kashmir region saw a significant decline in internet disruptions, with only two recorded in the first half of 2023 compared to 35 during the same period in 2022.
There were 42 new internet disruptions globally during the first half of 2023, adding to the 40 cases that were already ongoing before the start of the year.
“Today, billions of people are subjected to internet restrictions, which continue to increase at an alarming rate,” Racaityte-Krasauske added. “Internet restrictions often happen in times of political unrest, such as protests, controversial elections, or even military action — which is when people need to be connected to one another the most.”