As It Happens

Activist shares stories, videos from Iranian protesters in defiance of internet blackout

The government of Iran has responded to massive protests by shutting down the internet. But New York-based Iranian activist and journalist Masih Alinejad is still finding ways to get the information out.

Amnesty International says more than 100 protesters have been killed in 21 cities since the protests began

Iranian protesters in streets following a fuel price increase in the city of Isfahan on Saturday. (EPA-EFE)


Masih Alinejad says that as long as people keep sending her videos and stories from the front lines of Iran's deadly protests, she'll keep sharing them with the world.

Alinejad is an Iranian activist and journalist who lives in New York City. She says she's received more than 600 videos from people in her home country who want to spread the news about what's happening on the ground.

People have been sending her images, footage and messages using university and government Wi-Fi signals in direct defiance of a nationwide internet blackout, she said. 

"These videos that I have been receiving are very heart[breaking]," she told As It Happens host a Carol Off. "It's beyond sad."

More than 100 killed: Amnesty International 

Alinejad has been sharing the clips — along with interviews with protesters and their families — on her Twitter feed.

Many show violent clashes between protesters and security forces. Some show security guards beating demonstrators, or even shooting them, she said. CBC has not independently verified the videos' authenticity.

In one clip, Alinejad interviews the family of a 20-year-old protester who was killed.

"His family told me on a phone interview that they couldn't even get his body to bury him because they are not allowed to," she said. 

At least 106 protesters have been killed in 21 cities in Iran during unrest that broke out over a rise in fuel prices last week, said Amnesty International, citing credible reports from witnesses, verified videos and information from human rights activists.

Snipers have shot into crowds of protesters from rooftops and, in one case, from a helicopter, according to the human rights organization. 

"The organization believes that the real death toll may be much higher, with some reports suggesting as many as 200 have been killed," Amnesty said in a statement.

People gather Sunday in Isfahan around the wreckage of a public transportation bus that was burnt during the protests over increasing fuel price by government. (EPA-EFE)

The UN human rights office said it had received reports that dozens of people had been killed. It voiced concern about the security forces' use of live ammunition and urged authorities to rein in its use of force to disperse protesters.

"It is clearly very significant, a very alarming situation and widespread across the country," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva.

About 1,000 demonstrators have been arrested, authorities said.

Members of the security forces and police have also been killed in the protests. Three were stabbed to death near Tehran, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported on Monday.

"That is actually the result of the violence that security forces used against peaceful protesters in Iran," Alinejad said. 

"When you see people are being killed in front of you, what are you going to do? Of course, you are going to get angrier."

'Our enemy is not America, our enemy is here'

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday blamed the turmoil on Iran's foreign foes, including the United States, and denounced protesters as "thugs" and stooges of the American government.

On Tuesday, he said the protests are not the work of the people. 

But those in the streets, says Alinejad, are a coalition of working-class folks, many of them from rural areas.

"People are fed up with the Islamic Republic, with the corruption, with the poverty. People haven't received their salaries for months and months," she said. "And these are the workers — teachers, miners, nurses."

A man in Tehran shows his phone while unable to load a social media page after the government shown down internet service. (Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA-EFE)

She says U.S. sanctions against the country have hit the poorest of Iran the hardest, while those who have ties to the government have been unaffected. 

"They only blame sanctions. They never talk about oppression. They never talk about torture. They never talk about killings, beatings," she said. 

She says the people in the streets are chanting: "Our enemy is not America, our enemy is here, the Islamic Republic."

"They are saying if you, the government, need money, you can actually reduce the budget of those religious institutions in Iran. You can reduce the budgets of morality police, who are beating up the girls and women in the street. You can reduce the budget of the Revolutionary Guard. You can reduce the budget of all the clerics in Iran. Why [is] your hand ... in our pockets?" she said. 

Alinejad has long been in the crosshairs of the Iranian regime for her activism, which is why she lives in self-exile in New York.

But in September, while she waged a campaign against the country's compulsory hijab, her brother Ali was arrested at his home by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

He's been locked away in Tehran's Evin Prison ever since. The facility is used for detaining police prisoners, and advocates say it is rife with abuse and torture. He's not allowed to have a lawyer. 

Alinejad hasn't heard from her brother — a fact that makes it hard for her to carry out her work, she said. 

"They took my brother hostage to keep me silent. And they want me to feel guilty. They want me to stop spreading a message of Iranian people," she said.

"But as [long] as I receive videos from people naming me and sending me the information, I cannot give up. I cannot keep silent."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview with Masih Alinejad produced by Chris Harbord. 



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