The United States says efforts by Iranian authorities to intimidate those trying to stage protests Thursday in Tehran show the increasing bankruptcy of the government there. The State Department expressed concern about what it said were draconian steps by authorities to curb local communications in the face of demonstrations.
Officials here say the massive security presence to counter Thursday's protests has been accompanied by a near-total information blockade by Iranian authorities, apparently aimed at preventing communication among would-be demonstrators.
Briefing reporters, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said in the absence of a U.S. diplomatic presence in Tehran, U.S. officials were monitoring media reports on the events in Tehran marking the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Islamic republic.
He cited reports of local satellite television, telephone, text-messaging and Internet services being shut down in what he said was an unprecedented action that makes clear that the Iranian government fears its own people.
Crowley said such overwhelming curbs could risk alienating even core supporters of the Iranian government.
"It's not only jeopardizing its relationships with those who see a different kind of relationship with the government, they're probably also alienating their supporters as well," he said. "It is a draconian step, and as I said before, it is a remarkable statement today about how significantly the Iranian government now fears its own people."
Crowley, again dismissing Iranian charges of outside interference in domestic unrest, said the issue is not what outsiders are doing or are alleged to be doing, but the determination of Iranians to protest for universally recognized rights.
"The freedom of assembly, the freedom of to express their views, the freedom to connect, to have information that allows people to function and allows people to hold their government to account," he said. "This continuing intimidation by the Iranian government is of great concern to us, and we think it shows the increasing bankruptcy of the Iranian regime."
There were similar comments from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who said it appeared that Iranian operations of Google and other internet services had been basically unplugged.