Enraged farmers invaded a Friday Prayer ceremony in the city of Isfahan and, as a sign of anger, turned their backs on the prayer leader.
Farmers from eastern parts of Isfahan Province in central Iran have been demonstrating for weeks against the government’s failure to address a drought that has plagued the region for more than a decade.
While local media generally avoid reporting on such news, an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-run website, Fars news agency, reported the event, saying that farmers in Isfahan had staged “large demonstrations.”
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Images circulated on social media showing a group of farmers at the last Friday Prayers of the Iranian year with their backs turned to the podium in an expression of anger and dissatisfaction.
Video footage also shows the farmers chanting, “Turning our backs to the enemy, our faces to the motherland.”
Protesting farmers also slammed President Hassan Rouhani and the state-run Radio and TV with a series of vitriolic slogans, citing mismanagement of water resources.
The people of Isfahan have repeatedly accused Iranian authorities of drying up the Zayandeh Rood river by redirecting it to another province, Yazd.
The farmers' protests against drought and water mismanagement have frequently led to violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
The state-run news agency Mehr (MNA) cited an MP for Isfahan as blaming the violence on the government.
In a report published on March 11, Mehr quoted Hassan Kamran-Dastjerdi as telling an open session of the parliament that Iran's energy ministry has "plundered" water from Varzaneh's farmers by redirecting it to steel factories and refineries in neighboring areas.
He noted that the farmers, who had been working on the land along Zayandeh Rood for centuries, are frustrated with the government’s water mismanagement.
The office of Isfahan Friday Prayers has not covered the news concerning farmers’ protests on its website, but cited the city’s interim Friday Prayer Leader, Mojtaba Mirdamadi as remarking, “The farmers’ rights have been usurped for years through mismanagement and wrong decisions.”
The mid-ranking clergy also called upon the farmers to be patient and “pray for more rain.”
Isfahan’s farmers have long protested the redirection of Zayandeh Rood to neighboring Yazd Province. In 2012, farmers from eastern parts of Isfahan smashed the pipes transferring water to Yazd, which led to bloody clashes with security forces.
Isfahan’s Friday Prayers leader expressed sympathy for the farmers’ plight at the time but insisted that “smashing the pipes was against Islamic law.”
Last year, farmers blocked Isfahan’s main points of entry with tractors to highlight their dissatisfaction with the government’s water management.
However, the protests have gained momentum in recent weeks. On March 9, farmers from Varzaneh in eastern Isfahan damaged two electricity pylons and temporarily stopped transferring water to Yazd.
Meanwhile, people from other provinces, including oil-rich Khuzestan, have also repeatedly demonstrated against the government’s water policy.