Crime & Justice

Growing protests in Iran are met with regime's mainstay tactic: repression

By Al-Mashareq

Photo posted on social media on May 3 of an Iranian protester during an undated event in Iran. [File]

Photo posted on social media on May 3 of an Iranian protester during an undated event in Iran. [File]

Protests over social, economic and environmental issues have roiled Iran in recent months, and the response of the country's security forces -- typically a blend of anti-riot police forces and plainclothes and uniformed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) elements -- has been simple: repress them.

Teachers, factory workers and labour activists have taken to the street across the country to air their grievances with the Iranian regime, along with farmers protesting water shortages and villagers protesting sanitation failures.

In many cases, demonstrators have been denied their right to protest via intimidation, while in others they have been met with outright hostility and violence by security forces.

They have been shot at with pellet guns, arrested and imprisoned, with some subjected to humiliating searches of their homes and computers.

Teachers in Hamedan, Iran, gather to protest low pay and undesirable work conditions on May 1. [Iran International]

Teachers in Hamedan, Iran, gather to protest low pay and undesirable work conditions on May 1. [Iran International]

Tonnes of trash have been emptied into this landfill site in Saravan, Gilan, northern Iran, over the past 30 years. The outer part of the landfill is seen here in April. [Sarpoosh]

Tonnes of trash have been emptied into this landfill site in Saravan, Gilan, northern Iran, over the past 30 years. The outer part of the landfill is seen here in April. [Sarpoosh]

Recently when workers' and teachers' unions held co-ordinated protests in 28 cities for International Workers' Day (May 1) and Teachers' Day in Iran (May 2), IRGC intelligence and police forces ensured they had a strong presence in all cities where protests were held.

In Tehran, the protest was to take place in front of the Majles (parliament) building, but the heavily policed area dissuaded participants, organisers said, so the demonstration was relocated to the outskirts of the city.

Teachers have gathered across the country for months to demand unpaid salaries for teachers on contract (non-government employees) and to call for better benefits for staff members and higher salaries to meet inflation.

Education contractors are demanding that they be made government employees, while retired teachers seek a raise in their pension payments to make ends meet, as some are paid salaries that fall below the poverty line.

Chants heard during the May Day protests included: "[President] Raisi, you're a liar; what happened to your promises?" and "They say America is our enemy. That's a lie! Our enemy is right here!", according to the Centre for Human Rights in Iran.

Rising poverty and discontent

Low wages and unemployment have added to the burden on the Iranian people, who are facing severe stagflation and a steep economic decline.

Akram Vakili, a retired elementary school teacher living in Kermanshah, said she is embarrassed because she cannot afford to have both of her children and their families over for a meal at the same time.

"I have to space it out," she said. "My husband is a government retiree too, and we are barely staying afloat."

"We used to entertain regularly, and my children and their spouses would come over for meals a few times a week," she added. "Now, I need to invite them over separately, and I cannot afford to have them over every week."

Since Kian Tire, the oldest tyre factory in the Middle East, shut down last month, putting some 1,200 out of work, former employees have been staging regular protests outside major governmental buildings in Tehran.

Former factory employees have been holding signs that read "Workers would die rather than be humiliated" and "Work, wages, protest are our definite rights", outside the presidential palace and various ministries.

Over the past decade, Kian Tire workers have frequently protested to demand back pay for unpaid work, and to complain about lack of benefits and low wages.

In addition to the unemployed Kian Tire workers, workers from different sectors and cities have steadily protested low wages and insufficient benefits.

In an unprecedented public display of discontent, a large group of Ministry of Labour employees, mostly women, gathered outside the ministry building on April 19, demanding fair pay and benefits.

They chanted, "Incompetent minister, shame on you, shame on you!", in reference to Labour Minister Hojjat Abdolmaleki, who had told the press in February that he would be purging the ministry of some 1,000 employees.

Meanwhile, while top Iranian officials tout record income on oil exports, lawmakers, observers and civilians are wondering where all the money is going.

Many Iranians see a direct connection between the oil income embezzlement, and corruption in general, and the past and present IRGC officers who enjoy disproportionate representation and privileged positions in Raisi's administration.

Arrests, summons, imprisonment

Dozens of teachers were arrested during the Tuesday protests in multiple cities, adding to a growing list of teachers, workers and activists detained in recent months, according to local and international media reports.

Several high-ranking members of the Teachers' Union and four prominent union activists were among those arrested that day, and at least 70 protesting teachers were taken to Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.

Some well-known union activists have been summoned to court or to the Department of Intelligence for questioning.

A few others were arrested at their homes, and taken to prison. Their homes were searched, and their computers and other smart devices were confiscated.

A number of labour activists and Workers' Union members have been arrested and imprisoned in the past year, and at almost every demonstration across the country protesters have been detained, media reports said.

Many teachers and workers have been imprisoned with no trial and no sentencing. The families of some detained protesters said they did not have any knowledge of their whereabouts until days after their arrest.

On May 4, expatriate media quoted sources close to three imprisoned teachers as saying they have been on hunger strike since their arrest three days earlier. A union activist who is also in prison has joined the strike in solidarity.

Crackdown on environmentalists

Meanwhile, the severe drought Iran is facing, with associated shortages of potable water and water for agricultural use, has sparked dozens of protests in southern Iran over the past two years.

Several environmental activists were accused of "espionage" after they reached out to international environmental organisations for advice on how to tackle their country's related problems, and have been imprisoned.

The government's mismanagement of water resources has exacerbated water scarcity issues, and its sanitation service failures have created another environmental crisis.

On April 28, dozens of villagers from Saravan in northern Iran's Gilan province were shot at with pellet guns when they gathered in protest for the third consecutive day over a mountain of festering garbage.

For some 30 years, the government has been directing tonnes of garbage into Saravan, creating a garbage heap that is now reportedly 94m high.

Closing off the entry route for the trash deliveries, the people of Saravan protested the giant dump, complaining of its detrimental consequences on the environment and the potent stench they have to live with.

In addition to shooting at civilians with pellet guns, regime forces made several arrests, triggering public anger.

The government later announced it would take action to remedy the issue, although the details of how it will do this remain unclear. Bulldozers have been working on the site, digging up trash and moving it to an unknown location.

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