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Young Iraqis gather around the Internet to communicate the voice of protesters

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — By resorting to covert sending methods, widely unused methods and expensive foreign messages, young Iraqis are trying to circumvent the Internet blockade by Iraqi authorities to crack down on bloody protests.

After a wave of protests on Tuesday that killed nearly 100 people since Tuesday in Baghdad and provinces, Iraqi authorities blocked access to Facebook and WhatsApp, before cutting off the Internet on Wednesday, leaving protesters with no means of communication other than regular communications and messages.

But not all protesters!

Ahmed, 29, is an employee of an Internet provider that has implemented the government’s decision to shut down the Internet, but its employees are still able to access the network at the company’s headquarters.

“I go to the demonstrations in the morning, shoot videos in my phone, then go back to my workplace and use the Internet to upload them to Facebook or send them to media outside Iraq,” he told AFP, using a pseudonym for fear of prosecution.

Ahmed briefed Agence France Presse on videos he plans to send to foreign media at night, where he is heard shooting in the streets of almost empty, while he and his fellow protesters took refuge in the concrete blocks.

“My comrades are handing me the materials they photograph on USB memory sticks so that everyone outside Iraq can see what’s happening here,” he says.

Prior to Tuesday, social media was the platform for Iraqis to call for demonstrations, especially via Facebook and Instagram, against unemployment, corruption, cronyism, lack of social services and more.

On the first day, images of men and women marching towards the symbolic Tahrir Square in the center of the capital invaded social media, using the hashtag #Nakul_Hakki.

When Facebook was blocked, Iraqis moved in secret to download VPN applications (a virtual network that allows access to servers outside the country), and others began publishing details of upcoming events in the Cinemana Comments section, an application that broadcasts popular programs and series in Iraq. .

Others have used satellite communications, which are very expensive, to communicate with the outside world.

Protesters pointed out that blocking the Internet is an attempt to prevent reports of repression by security forces used to repel protesters tear gas, water cannons and live bullets.

– “Blocking face” –

About 100 people have been killed since Tuesday in Iraq, most of them demonstrators, including some security elements, according to official statistics.

“They are trying to confront us not only with weapons, but with obstruction,” protester Osama Mohammed, 31, told AFP.

“We used to look at all the Facebook pages of our neighborhoods to see where we were going to demonstrate. Now we only follow the sound of bullets.”

“If they cut off normal communications, we will become blind,” he said.

Rasha, a 25-year-old feminist, considers the demonstrations a serious risk if she takes part. Yet she found another way to get involved.

Every day, her young comrades provide her with phone messages about the latest developments in protest arenas across Iraq, and she forwards those messages to her friends in the UAE and Europe.

“I am not a veteran. I can’t pretend alone, so this is the least I can do,” she told AFP, noting that the phone balance she bought over the past three days cost her about $ 100 a day.

Rasha also maintains a video and some unpublished material from one of the first violent demonstrations to which she was a participant.

“They think we will forget that they shot us, they think people won’t know. But I have videos, and I will post everything I saw the moment the Internet returns,” she says.

Like Jaafar Raad, a 29-year-old unemployed man, he also keeps videos and photos taken during the demonstrations he participated in, for publication when the ban was lifted.

Raad also records voice messages on popular apps such as Facebook and Facebook, from the protesters themselves, so that they can send them to friends abroad and to international media once the Internet returns.

“People need to know what happened,” Raad told AFP. “So we will be able to hold those who are responsible for what happened.”

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