State Department monitoring internet outages in Iran amid protests

The State Department on Wednesday said it was monitoring reports of internet outages and slowdowns in Iran amid ongoing anti-government protests spurred by a water shortage in the country. 

State spokesman Ned Price said in a statement issued by his office that the U.S. supports the "right" of the Iranian people "to voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable."

"The Iranian people are now putting a spotlight not only on their unmet needs but also their unfulfilled aspirations for respect for human rights - rights to which individuals the world over are entitled," Price explained. 

The protests first erupted nearly two weeks ago in the Khuzestan province and have now spread across various cities, including Tehran, Karaj and Tabriz, due to a water shortage that Price said was the result of "drought and governmental mismanagement and neglect." 

Price went on to say that the State Department has seen "disturbing reports that security forces fired on protesters, resulting in multiple deaths." 

"We condemn the use of violence against peaceful protestors," he added. "We support the rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and express themselves, without fear of violence and detention by security forces." 

"We are also monitoring reports of internet slowdowns in the region," he continued, adding that the U.S. urges "the Iranian government to allow its citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression and to freely access information, including via the Internet."

On Sunday, CNN reported that at least three people have been killed during the violent protests, with Iranian state media reporting that the fatalities were a result of "suspicious bullets shot by some unknown people who penetrated among peaceful protesters." 

However, human rights groups have expressed concern that the true death toll is much higher, especially amid reports that anti-riot police and security agents were shooting at some demonstrators. 

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement Friday that Iranian authorities should take actions to address the water shortage, rather than use force against demonstrators. 

"The impact of the devastating water crisis on life, health and prosperity of the people of Khuzestan should be the focus of the Government's attention, not the protests carried out by people driven to desperation by years of neglect," Bachelet said, adding that she was "extremely concerned about the deaths and injuries that have occurred over the past week, as well as the widespread arrests and detention."

However, Iran pushed back on Bachelet's statement, accusing the United Nations of meddling in internal state affairs.