At least five protesters are dead amid a violent state crackdown on street demonstrations in Iran, while the authorities have blocked internet access in protest hot zones, pressured domestic media not to cover the protests, and arrested growing numbers of protesters and activists.
Yet the protesters are refusing to back down; street demonstrations, currently in their second week, were reported in at least 20 cities across Iran at the time of this writing.
“The Iranian people are in the streets to protest living costs and air grievances against their repressive government, and the Islamic Republic is responding yet again by killing and jailing them” said executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) Hadi Ghaemi.
“The international community must speak out forcefully to condemn this now routine killing of protesters in Iran and demand that the authorities stop unleashing its military forces on the Iranian people,” Ghaemi added.
CHRI calls on the UN Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and all relevant UN special rapporteurs, as well as Member Governments worldwide and officials taking part in talks with Iran, to urge the Islamic Republic to immediately cease the use of violent force against protesters who are exercising their legitimate rights.
Iranian Government Seeks Scapegoats, Pressures Media to Downplay Protests
As of May 17, 2022, protested were reported in the capital of Tehran, as well as Mashhad, Dezful, Shahr-e Kord, Andimeshk, Jouneqan, Khorramabad, Fashafouyeh, Farsan, Boroujerd, Dehdasht, Doroud, Ardabil, Neyshabour, Sough, Rasht, Yazd, Shadegan, Shahin Shahr, Baba Heydar, Hafshejan, and Yasouj.
Persian-language media outlets had reported at least five deaths among protesters since the protests began on May 5, 2022, two of whom have been confirmed by state officials: Sa’adat Hadipour who was killed in Hafshejan (Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province), and Pishali Ghalebi Hajivand, who was killed in Andimeshk (Khuzestan Province).
According to unconfirmed reports, Omid Soltani was killed in Andimeshk, and Hamid Ghasempour and Behrouz Eslami were killed during protests in the cities of Farsan and Chaharmahal in Bakhtiari Province.
Meanwhile, Iranian authorities have been accused of pressuring state media outlets to downplay their coverage of the protests.
A journalist in Iran who asked not to be identified told BBC Persian on May 16 that officials of the state-run Supreme National Security Council and the Intelligence Ministry had met separately with media editors “to set policy on how to cover the protests and price reform plan.”
Arbitrary Arrests of Activists, Dissidents and Labor Leaders Increasing
The state crackdown has been expanding across civil society. Numerous labor, civil and political rights activists have been arbitrarily arrested.
The detainees include sociologist Saeed Madani, who had predicted more protests as inevitable, as well as prominent labor activists Reza Shahabi and Reyhaneh Ansari. Three documentary filmmakers have also been arrested: Mina Keshavarz, Firouzeh Khosravani and Shilan Sa’di, as well as photographer Reyhaneh Taravati.
There have been reports of hundreds of arrests in Izeh (Khuzestan Province) alone and 50 in the city of Shahr-e Kord (Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province).
The protests over the sudden and extraordinary increase in the price of basic food items began on May 5 in a number of cities in the southwest province of Khuzestan, including Ahvaz, Sousangerd and Izeh.
As protests continued in several cities, the government began blocking or disrupting internet access in cities including throughout Khuzestan Province. State imposed internet outages have typically accompanied violent state suppression of protests.
The suppression of protests in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province in recent days has been particularly violent. Images and videos shared on social media show police and security forces charging the protesters and in some cases firing directly at people.
Meanwhile the Iranian government accused two French nationals who were detained in Iran last week of being involved in the country’s ongoing teacher protests, which are rooted in governmental mismanagement of state funds and the education system, and have been ongoing for years—long before the French nationals’ arrival.
The detentions fall in line with Iran’s ongoing detainment of dual and foreign nationals on trumped-up charges to use as bargaining chips with foreign powers.
Prominent teachers’ rights advocates are meanwhile imprisoned on manufactured “national security” charges for engaging in peaceful protest, including Esmail Abdi, who has been in jail in Iran since 2016 and is currently in poor health yet being denied medical furlough.
Iran’s Constitution allows peaceful protests and marches to be held, yet Iranian security forces have a documented history of violently suppressing protests with indiscriminate and live fire and by conducting mass arbitrary arrests.
Human rights organizations have documented the killing of hundreds of protesters in the country since major anti-state protests erupted there in November 2019.
“The Iranian government is using its power to muzzle local media to downplay the protests while blocking internet coverage to prevent information from getting out of the country,” said Ghaemi.
“Yet nothing can change the reality on the ground: The Iranian people are risking their lives to demand an accountable government,” he added. “The international community should speak out forcefully in support for them.”