Protests and strikes have continued in Baneh and other cities of Iran's Kurdistan province since Monday, as a result of a deadly incident blamed on border guards.
Five border guards have been arrested after a deadly incident in the border area near the city of Baneh, northwest Iran, the judiciary’s news website, Mizan reported on Wednesday, September 6.
The detainees are accused of killing two border porters, Haidar Faraji, 21, and Ghader Bahrami, 45, on Monday morning.
The porters were shot dead as they carried merchandise across Iran’s porous border with Iraq.
A lot of consumer merchandise is smuggled across the Iran-Iraq border, often by human carriers a.k.a. “koolbar” to evade patrolled roads and border crossings. One of the porters was reportedly a rural chief in a village near Baneh, 667 kilometers, 414 miles west of the capital, Tehran.
The killing led to widespread protests in the mainly Kurdish populated city, in Kurdistan province. Upon a call by local activists, people shut their shops and poured into the streets.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people assembled outside the city’s municipality building, condemning the killing of the border porters who have frequently been targeted by the border guards.
Anti-riot security forces used tear gas and tried to disperse the angry protesters. Nevertheless, the protests went on and continued until Wednesday. Eleven protesters have been detained and several wounded while resisting the security forces, some reports say.
The protesters called for the local Governor’s resignation and demanded justice.
According to unconfirmed reports, hours after the continuation of the protests on Tuesday, Baneh’s Governor resigned.
Security measures in Baneh and surrounding regions have been drastically increased since protests began, a local reporter told Radio Farda.
Shops in Baneh also stayed closed at least until Wednesday.
There are reports that protests have also taken place in Saghez and Sanandaj, two other predominantly Kurdish cities and several Kurdish activists have announced hunger strikes.
Baneh’s representative in the parliament, Mohsen Biglari, told ILNA that he will follow up on the issue with all relevant national authorities and demand justice for the two victims.
He also said the work of these laborers should be regulated and authorities should refrain from using force against this underprivileged class.
Another member of parliament had earlier announced that there are around 70,000 border porters in Iran and had asked for regulating and organizing their work.
The border porters or”koolbars” are frequently harassed by the Iranian guards patrolling the borders and many have been killed.
The koolbars are semi-legal porters who carry merchandise on their backs, across the mountains from the autonomous Kurdistan Region in Northern Iraq to Iran’s Kurdistan province.
Villagers on the border had been doing this work illegally for years. In mid-2016, Iranian authorities announced they would issue special licenses to allow the transport of goods on foot without the risk of being stopped by border guards, Kurdish website, Rudaw reported.
Only heads of families, who have finished their military service and live within 15 kilometers (9.321 miles) of the border, qualify for the special license to transport legal goods.
Government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht has also told the media that a draft law is being prepared that would essentially allow porters to continue their work.
The Iranian Labor News Agency, ILNA, reported that people in the region believe the reason for the smuggling is a lack of jobs, which drives young people to the dangerous work. They insist that security forces should refrain from opening fire at “porters,” as they are called in Iran.
Iran has strict and complicated import laws, especially for highly desired and banned or restricted consumer items, such as alcoholic drinks and foreign fashion merchandise. This leads to strong demand, which is fulfilled by various methods, including smuggling.