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Iran Provincial Cleric Says State TV Annoyed Ethnic Arabs ‘Inadvertently’

Following several days of demonstrations in Iran’s Khouzestan Province by ethnic Arabs protesting against Iranian state TV for “ignoring Iranian Arabs,” a top cleric in the province’s capital city, Ahvaz, has warned demonstrators to “watch out for the enemy’s sedition and conspiracies.”

Iranian official news agency IRNA on March 30 quoted Ahvaz Friday Prayers leader Abolhassan Hassanzadeh as saying, “Although the Arabs of Khouzestan were rightly annoyed by state TV’s behavior, they should watch out for the enemy’s sedition and conspiracies.”

Hassanzadeh said the behavior that offended the ethnic Arabs “was not a deliberate act.”

Iranian state TV’s biased coverage and politically incorrect programming has been frequently criticized by the media and the public, and at times has stirred controversy, sometimes leading to mass protest demonstrations.

watch out for the enemy’s sedition and conspiracies
Ahvaz Friday prayers leader reacting to recent protests

An animation broadcast during the highly popular comedy show The Red Hat on March 22 depicted children from various parts of Iran in local costume, but Arabs were absent. Ethnic Arabs of Khouzestan rallied in Ahvaz in the following days in protest, and social media videos showed clashes between the demonstrators and riot police.

Hundreds of ethnic Arabs staged a demonstration on March 28 in front of state TV’s local headquarters in Ahvaz. Videos released on social media show police using tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Several news websites, including the foreign-based Iranian Human Rights News Agency, which covers human rights violations in Iran, said several demonstrators were arrested.

The videos also show demonstrations in Ahvaz and some other cities and small towns across Khouzestan.

The videos also show ethnic Arabs in local costume dancing and singing to celebrate their ethnicity as part of an annual cultural event that coincided with the protests.

Iranian state TV, which is supervised by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who appoints its chairman, has annoyed ethnic groups in various parts of Iran by broadcasting politically incorrect and sometimes biased programs.

A program that undermined the Iranian Lor tribes stirred controversy and caused mass demonstrations in Lorestan in 2016.

The volatile province of Khouzestan was the scene of mass demonstrations in 2005, when according to a letter leaked to the media the government was allegedly planning to change the ethnic makeup of the province’s population in order to make political control easier.

Several demonstrators were killed and hundreds were arrested during the rallies in 2005.

The letter was rumored to have been authored by Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who was then deputy president.

At the time, Abtahi refuted the content of the letter and said it was “fabricated.”