Fahad Ali talks about escalating uncertainty in Iran
It has been more than four decades since the clerical regime took the reins of power Spiraling protests in Iran after ending the monarchical rule of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and since then it has consolidated its grip on power by eliminating all opposition and this is precisely the reason that every protest movement against it failed for want of leadership. The same appears the case this time round as the current spate of protests that may soon enter their second month (they began on 16 September) no definite result appears to be forthcoming despite plenty of people losing their lives. Evidence is, however, emerging that the rumpus created by the protests has seriously undermined the regime and has unnerved many including the head of the judiciary publicly acknowledging mistakes, weaknesses, and failures of the government.
In a dangerous twist, reminiscent of the last days of the Shah, workers at a petrochemical complex in southern Iran went on strike; potentially the latest sign that anti-government protests are broadening to critical sectors of the economy. Dozens of workers blocked roads and protested at a plant in Assaluyeh in the oil-rich province of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf. The demonstrations marked for the first time spread to Iran’s oil-and-gas industry. Before this, it was mostly retail outlets and small businesses that had closed their doors in support of the rights movement. Iran’s government made no official comment on the unrest at the facility but the semiofficial Tasnim news agency described the incident as a salary dispute involving 700 workers.
The protests have spread to universities and high schools as the new academic year begin, infusing fresh energy into a weeks-long, nationwide movement demanding more rights and prompting a brutal crackdown from authorities.
Young Student Involvement
The involvement of young students seeking more liberties adds a new dimension to the rights movement that erupted and those demands have since morphed into broader calls to overthrow the Islamic Republic, posing one of the toughest challenges yet to the country’s ultraconservative clerical leadership. In videos posted recently on social media, schoolgirls were seen removing their obligatory headscarves, or hijabs, in a display of defiance against the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
Many universities moved classes online in an attempt to contain the protests but the demonstrations have continued. A violent crackdown earlier this week at one of Iran’s premier educational institutes, the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, has become a rallying call on social media for many students across the country. At Sharif members of a paramilitary force and plainclothes police officers on motorcycles surrounded the campus and began shooting pellets, paintballs, and rubber bullets at the protesters with paintball markings were later used to identify and arrest some of the protesters.
As Iran attempts to suppress rights protests across the country, another front of resistance has opened up in far-flung ethnic enclaves, where security forces in the past week killed more than 80 in the country’s remotest and poorest province. Unrest in Sistan-Baluchistan and other provinces, which are home to ethnic minorities poses a tricky challenge for the government, as it seeks to prevent the movement from spreading out of control without stoking further anger. Authorities have heavily restricted internet access in the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province but residents and the rights group Amnesty International now say that at least 66 people were killed in a single incident in the province’s capital, Zahedan.
Security forces opened fire on people moving from Friday prayer toward the city’s main police station to demand justice for a 15-year-old girl allegedly raped by a police officer. To confront the protesters, police used live ammunition, metal pellets, and tear gas. Since then, at least 16 more people have been killed in clashes with the security forces. The government has also responded with violent force in other remote regions of Iran with large ethnic minorities, including Khuzestan in the southwest and Kurdistan in the northwest. Sistan-Baluchistan is home to a majority of Iran’s Baloch population of more than two million, while Khuzestan is where most of Iran’s more than 1.5 million ethnic Arabs live. Kurdistan is home to a majority of the country’s roughly 10 million Kurds.
All three ethnic groups complain of government discrimination and neglect, with some wanting more autonomy for their region. Sistan-Baluchistan is Iran’s poorest province, and most neglected in terms of education, health, and social benefits. Security forces regularly clash with groups they accuse of separatism and terrorism. Poor telecommunications infrastructure makes it easier for the government to suppress information in Sistan-Baluchistan but the clashes there at this time appear to be deadlier than in other places. As government violence continues to fuel public anger across Iran, unrest in the provinces will stretch the security forces thin and make it hard for the government in Tehran to curtail protests that have become truly national.
Hundreds of people in Zahedan gathered after Friday prayer on 30 September to demand justice for a 15-year-old girl who had allegedly been raped by a police commander in the nearby port city of Chabahar. When the crowd began moving toward the main police station, security forces opened fire on them from rooftops, residents said.
Amnesty International Force
The forces also opened fire near the mosque, where hundreds of people, including children, were still praying. Angry residents clashed with Revolutionary Guard forces in the streets around the mosque where some were shot at by helicopters. Some banks, a supermarket owned by the Revolutionary Guard, and other shops were set on fire in the riots.
Amnesty International said it has gathered the names of at least 66 protesters and bystanders who were killed but expects the actual death toll is higher. The rights group said at least 16 other people have been killed since then in a continuing crackdown on protests. A local activist group, HAAL Vash, has compiled the names of 91 fatalities, often including pictures and footage of the moment they were shot. Amnesty said it had evidence that the majority of victims were shot in the head, heart, neck, and torso, which it said revealed a clear intent to kill or seriously harm. Iranian authorities have said 19 people were killed, including four security forces, and that they were shot by terrorists that came across the Iran-Pakistan border, a claim local residents and activists deny.
The UK said that it was imposing new sanctions on senior Iranian security officials for alleged human rights violations, including on members of the morality police responsible for enforcing laws requiring women to wear headscarves and to dress modestly in public. Britain’s Foreign Office said it was banning travel to the UK and freezing any assets of Gholamreza Soleimani, head of Iran’s Basij force, and of Hassan Karami, commander of a police special forces unit. Both organizations have played a central role in the crackdown on protests.
The head of the morality police, Mohammed Rostami Cheshmeh Gachi, and its Tehran head, Haj Ahmed Mirzaei, were also sanctioned, as was the entire organization. It was unclear what assets the sanctioned organizations or individuals might have in Britain. Meanwhile, the US Treasury Department on Thursday levied fresh sanctions against seven senior Iranian government and security officials the Biden administration said to bear responsibility for the violent crackdown against the protest movement. The Weekender