WASHINGTON – Protests over a water shortage in drought-stricken southwestern Iran have spread to more cities and officials say is the third fatality as unrest has risen to a seventh day.
Videos posted on social media showed street protests in several parts of Khuzestan province on Wednesday, including the cities of Suzangrd and Masjid Soleiman. Protesters said Soleiman at the mosque said, “Police, support us,” a reference to local concerns about security forces cracking down on earlier rallies.
Other social media videos showed Iranians rallying in support of Khuzestan protesters in the city of Yazdenshahr in neighboring Isfahan province. The Isfahan rally will be the first such protest in the province since daily protests began in Khuzestan last Thursday and the widest and most sustained disturbance Iran has seen in months.
VOA could not independently verify the reported videos of Khuzestan and Isfahan. Iran has blocked the VOA from reporting inside the country.
In another development, Iranian state-approved news site ILNA on Tuesday cited the top official of the city of Izeh in Khuzestan, Hassan Nabouti, as reports of one person’s death in local protests against water scarcity.
Nabouti said the man was injured in the protests and was taken to a hospital in a private car, but was declared brought dead. Nabouti said an investigation was underway to identify the attacker and added that 14 security personnel were injured in the protests.
Iranian state media previously reported the killing of two people by gunfire during demonstrations last Friday.
Social media videos that appear to be from Tuesday’s protests in Izeh but could not be verified by the VOA show protesters chanting “death to Khamenei” and “Reza Shah, bless his soul”. Gunshots were also heard in those videos.
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.
Another series of videos sent to VOA Persian and posted on social media appeared on Monday night showing protests in several other parts of Khuzestan, including the provincial capital, Ahvaz, and the cities of Andimeshk, Hamidiyah, Ramhormoz, Shushtar and Susanard. . 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 verified by the VOA.
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 anti-government protests in Khuzestan are not driven solely by ethnic minority grievances.
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.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was closely following the Khuzestan protests, including “reports that security forces have opened fire on protesters.”
“We support the rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and express themselves. Iranians, like any other people, should enjoy those rights without fear of violence, without being arbitrarily detained by security forces. Must be enjoyed,” Price said.
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 on Tuesday that his wife and some other rally activists were beaten up and arrested by security forces. In another tweet five hours later, Rahmani said that all have been released. There was no mention of the incident in Iranian state media.
الان مام ازداشتی ا ازاد دند. https://t.co/YrgqLH6LsS
— 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. .
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.