The Iranian government has designated several spots in Tehran where citizens are permitted to hold rallies, including five sports complexes, six parks, and an area next to the parliament.
On June 10, the government also issued criteria for the designation of locations in other cities. Based on the guidelines, the designated spaces should be accessible and within the city limits, provide the possibility of being seen and heard by other citizens. The areas should be located far from crowded areas, should not pose a “severe interruption” to everyday life, and should not cause people to “unwillingly” join the event or join with “other motivations.”
Cities with a population of under 1 million should have one space, and cities with higher population should have two places designated for protests, according to the guidelines.
Iranians reacted to the news on social media with suspicion. “They say go to designated places, so we can watch you. Shout and chant slogans until you are tired. We don’t care about your demands. We will only identify you and will come after you when you are later alone,” a Facebook user wrote on Radio Farda’s page.
The government’s decision is an apparent reaction to the anti-establishment protests that swept the country last December. The first rally started in the eastern city of Mashhad with slogans against economic problems and corruption, but soon protests spread across the country and turned into demonstrations against clerical rule and specifically Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Since then, there have been several attempts to designate places for rallies in the hopes of controlling them more easily.
On January 7, Tehran’s city council ratified a bill addressing the issue. However, the Interior Ministry expressed objections. “It is not appropriate to limit gatherings to one place,” the ministry’s spokesperson said, adding that the bill ignored “security and political aspects.”
Members of the Iranian Parliament later announced a bill to “implement” the constitution’s Article 27 on public gatherings. According to an MP, the bill provides that if the number of participants reaches 100 people, an MP should appear at the rally and address them. If there are more than 300 people, the head of a related parliamentary commission should make himself available to the protesters. And if the number exceeds 1,000, the parliament speaker should go out and listen to protesters’ issues.
The proposal was supposed to be presented on the parliament’s floor a few days later, but it never happened, and its current status is unknown.
Article 27 of the Iranian Constitution stipulates that citizens have the right to hold assemblies "provided arms are not carried" and the assemblies "are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam."
However, officials have admitted that it is virtually impossible to obtain permits for protest gatherings or rallies.