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Police Chief In Iran Threatens Protesters With 'Forceful' Crackdown

A general view of protests in the city of Behbahan in south Iran, on Thursday night July 16, 2020.
A general view of protests in the city of Behbahan in south Iran, on Thursday night July 16, 2020.

The police chief in Behbahan, a southwestern Iranian city where the first of what appears to be a new round of protests took place Thursday evening, says security forces used their "might" to disperse the protesters.

Speaking to the official news agency IRNA on Friday 17 July, Behbahan Police Chief Mohammad Azizi claimed, "the protest was against the economic situation," but insisted only "a small number of people" took part.

Videos shared on social media show hundreds of people rallying in various places in the city, particularly at the venue of last November’s protests, while the police attacked the crowd with tear gas.

The police chief warned the protesters both Thursday evening and Friday morning that the crackdown might be heavy-handed.In November, the security forces shot protesters in the head or heart at point blank in various cities including Behbahan. Various sources put the casualty toll of November protests between 230 to 1500, but the Iranian government has still not released the official figures of the violent crackdown.

Although disruption in Internet connection stopped the flow of fresh videos from Behbahan and Shiraz, where most protests took place Thursday night, the videos that made it to social media platforms show clashes with the police and gun shots heard at least in one video.

The police chief says the slogans were against the norms of the society, which is the official jargon to describe demanding regime change. "Being ruled by clerics, we don't want - we don't want" was one of the most frequently chanted slogans in Behbahan while other protesters answered: "The Islamic Republic, we don't want - we don't want."

Other slogans included "Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life for Iran," which is a slogan against the Islamic Republic's regional ambitions. One of the most stinging slogans that must have annoyed the officials was: "Mullahs should get lost."

The police chief warned once again that the people should avoid joining any gathering and said that "protests will be dealt with forcefully."

Various reports from Iran said that tight security measures were in place and massive security presence was observed in Tehran, Isfahan, Mashad and Shiraz from mid-day on Thursday as the police anticipated some kind of protests following the "promotion" of “Don’t Execute” hashtag on Twitter by over nine million social media users in less than two days.

The amplification of anti-execution messages on social media was initially meant to reverse the death sentence issued for three young men arrested during the November protests, but gradually it turned into a remembrance of all those who have been executed by the Islamic regime in Iran since 1979.

The government's response was the same routine practice that has taken shape since the post-election unrests in 2009: Heavy riot police presence and cutting off the internet to deprive protesters of an effective means of mobilization and messaging, as well preventing news and images being shared.

According to the international Internet Shutdown Observatory NetBlocks, the Iranian government restricted Internet access in Khuzestan Province from around 10 PM local time.

In the meantime, the Iranian Human Rights News Agency HRANA reported from Behbahan that Farzaneh Ansarifar, a young woman whose brother was shot to death during last November, has been arrested Thursday nights. At least 10 demonstrators were killed in Behbahan in November.

Arrests have also been reported in the Province of Khorasan Friday morning. The local police accused those arrested in Mashhad, the provincial capital, of "spying, encouraging others to take part in protests, acting against national security and disrupting public order through social media platforms."

The IRGC in Mashad charged that those arrested in the city were inked to "belligerent groups” but did not elaborate.

In Shiraz however, the IRGC intelligence announced that it has arrested a team "affiliated with the Mojahedin-e Khalq" opposition group. The IRGC did not say how many were arrested but said that those arrested "had come to the Fars Province for sabotage in a part of Shiraz."

Iranian officials, particularly President Hassan Rouhani have been preoccupied with the fear of recurring protests following massive demonstrations against deteriorating economic conditions in 2018 and 2019 which threatened the regime's existence and eroded its legitimacy to a great extent, particularly as the government's violent crackdown on protesters led to international disgrace for the Islamic system.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has been quoted earlier as having said that protesters might take to the streets as a result of financial problems created by U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic. His health minister Saeed Namaki suggested that Rouhani's priority should be keeping the population safe from the virus while also looking for a solution for the economic problem.