WASHINGTON — Protests over water shortages in drought-stricken southwestern Iran have spread to more cities and have taken on a scathing anti-government tone as unrest stretches for a sixth night.
Videos shared with VOA Persian and posted on social media showed slogans of “death to Khamenei” and “Reza Shah, bless your soul” in the city of Izeh in Iran’s Khuzestan province on Tuesday night local time . In some of these videos, gunshots were also heard.
VOA could not independently verify the video. Iran has blocked the VOA from reporting inside the country.
The “death of Khamenei” has been a common occurrence in recent years for anti-government protesters angered by the authoritarian regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Previous waves of Iranian street protests also chanted “Reza Shah, bless your soul” as a sign of affection for Reza Shah, the founder of the country’s former monarchy. Khamenei’s predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, ousted Reza Shah’s son from power in Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
An earlier series of videos sent to VOA Persian and posted on social media appeared to show protests on Monday night in the provincial capital, Ahvaz, and several other parts of Khuzestan, including the cities of Andimeshk, Hamidiyah, Ramhormoz, Shushtar and Susangard. Those clips showed protesters shouting slogans condemning the lack of drinking and agricultural water in the province, with gunshots being heard in some places. The images also could not be independently verified by the VOA.
The protests initially began in Khuzestan late Thursday and turned deadly the following evening, when Iranian state media reported two people were killed by gunfire during the demonstrations. Since then, videos have shown the protests continuing on a nightly basis, showing what Iran may have seen as the widest and most sustained disturbances in months.
Iranian state media published interviews with relatives of the two killed, describing their loved ones as having allied with Iran’s pro-government Basij militia. But Iranian social media users said they believed relatives were forced to abdicate security forces from responsibility for the killings.
Several protesters seen in videos from the first two nights of the protests were shouting slogans in Arabic. Khuzestan is home to a significant ethnic Arab minority that has long complained of discrimination and neglect by the Islamic rulers of Persian-majority Iran.
But Tuesday’s apparent protests in Izeh, a city that is not predominantly Arab, indicated that widespread anti-government protests in Khuzestan are not driven solely by ethnic minority grievances.
A group of prominent Iranian rights activists, including Narges Mohammadi, held a rally in front of Iran’s interior ministry in Tehran on Tuesday to express solidarity with Khuzestan protesters.
— VOA Persian (@VOAIran) 20 July 2021
A video shared on social media showed former political prisoners Mohammadi, Arash Sadeghi, Zafar Azimzadeh and several other activists gathered outside the ministry as Mohammadi spoke in defense of innocent people of Khuzestan.
Mohammadi’s husband in exile in France, Tagi Rahmani, tweeted later on Tuesday that his wife and some other rally workers had been beaten up and arrested by security forces. There was no immediate word on Mohammadi’s fate in Iranian state media.
Niris محمدی دستگیر د.به وسیله نیروی انتظامی and مایت نیرو ای امنیتی.
und ner der م دستگیر ده اند. Ain Daxitri b رب and م وده است.
— Tagi Rahmani (@RahmaniTaghi) 20 July 2021
Iran’s water scarcity is partly the result of weather-related factors, including a sharp drop in rainfall, which in recent months exceeded last year’s levels by more than 40%, combined with higher summer temperatures.
Experts say decades of Iranian government mismanagement has also fueled the drought. They blame the poorly-considered location of the authorities and the construction of hydroelectric dams and diverting water from Khuzestan’s rivers and wetlands to industrial sites in neighboring regions, which have dried up sources of drinking and agricultural water for Khuzestan residents. .
Iranian leaders were quoted in state media as saying they had sent delegations to Khuzestan to investigate reports of water shortages and fatal shootings of protesters in recent days.
The head of New York’s Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaimi, in a statement on Monday called on the United Nations to “forcefully call on the Iranian authorities to allow people to air their grievances without threats of violence or imprisonment.” Give.”
Responding to a VOA Persian question about the Khuzestan protests last Friday, US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said at a press briefing that Washington “will continue to urge the Iranian government to support the Iranian people as they express expression.” also exercise their universal rights to freedom, in the form of freedom of peaceful assembly.” The Biden administration has not made any additional comment about the protests as they appeared to expand in subsequent days.
In an interview with VOA Farsi on Monday, France-based Iranian sociologist Jalal Idjadi said water scarcity has exacerbated the coronavirus pandemic in Khuzestan. He said provincial news reports show the percentage of the population receiving the coronavirus vaccine is in the low single digits.
“The scarcity of water has affected people’s health and the spread of the coronavirus,” Idzadi said.