CapU Students Experience Iran’s Internet Blackout

The stresses of being a full-time student, balancing personal lives and global conflict came to a crux this past November for Iranian students at Capilano

Tom Balog  // Contributor

In the final few months of 2019, we witnessed a large number of protests throughout the world. In Hong Kong, pro-democracy protestors continue to battle with the Chinese communist government. France, Chile, and Colombia, among other countries, are experiencing turmoil. In November, Iran saw the deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution.

Campus life was relatively normal among the diverse student body during the usual end of term crux. The library was buzzing with students wandering around, trying to find an open table to start their essays due the next morning. As students were nose-deep studying for exams, some students wrestled with things happening on the other side of the world while trying to pass exams. This was the reality for Iranian students at Capilano.

On November 15th in Iran, the government increased gas prices in the country from 50-300 percent. In 2018 the United States’ re-imposed sanctions on Iran led to the price increase and economic turmoil. Iranians took to the street to protest the increase and were met by the Iran security forces. In a tactical move to disrupt the protestors, the Iranian Supreme National Security Council shut off the internet for 163 hours, starting on the evening of the November 16th. Protestors and citizens were unable to communicate with people inside and outside the country.

*Sara is a Canadian-born Iranian student at Capilano. On November 16th, when she opened Instagram, posts of the internet blackout engulfed her feed. “I called my mom and asked her if this is true? She said ‘yeah, I can’t contact my sisters’.” Most of her family is living in Tehran, the capital of Iran. Sara said she tried to use landlines to reach her family, but an eerie prerecorded voice speaking in Farsi overtook the line saying, “Hello, hello? I can’t hear you.” With no one being able to reach people in Iran, people’s thoughts went to the worst-case scenario. Fortunately, full-blown war wasn’t the case, but the situation was bloody and volatile. As time passed, Sara heard from her cousin, who figured out a way to reach out through the blackout.

Speaking with another Iranian student, Nelly*, who was born in Iran then forced to move to Canada by her parents, her experience discovering the blackout was similar. “My days usually start with me checking my twitter feed, which is a big community of all of my friends from all over the world. And when I woke up, it felt like my twitter feed was empty, and people who would be tweeting from that hour weren’t there. Other Iranians around the world were panicking, and nobody had a clue until a few hours later, and the first videos came out.”

Nelly studied at the University of Tehran and was politically active during this time in her life, which is very different than being politically active in Canada. Old classmates of hers were arrested during the internet blackout and protest. Most of her close friends have already left the country as economic instability and authoritarian rule worsened. 

The death toll since the beginning of the protest is currently over 200 Iranians, including teenagers, children, students. The internet blackout is estimated to have cost the Iran economy $1.5 billion. Both students interviewed shared a similar perspective in wanting students of Capilano to know what has and is happening in Iran. Gas prices are still high, the internet is back on for the majority of the country, and it’s becoming clear how far the deadly, authoritative government will go in asserting and maintaining its power. As the semester continues in the new year and projects, papers and tests fill the minds of Capilano students, brief interactions with each other may reveal the depth of what is happening in their lives. Staying informed and compassionate as a student is a meaningful way to start in 2020.  

*Sara’s last name has been omitted and Nelly’s name has been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees

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