Protests in Iran, which began on Friday 15 November over opposition to a triple hike in petrol prices, are being met with a brutal backlash from authorities. Security forces have used extensive violence on protestors, with over 100 people confirmed killed and over 1000 arrested in more than 100 cities in Iran. The regime has cut internet connections since early Saturday morning in an attempt to quell the dissent and prevent news of these protests being leaked to the outside world.
The current protests are a culmination of the increased strain being placed on the Iranian people by the Islamic Regime. The population have also recently faced drastic hikes in food prices amongst other essentials.
The 50% – 300% rise in petrol prices overnight proved to be the final straw. Protestors had begun parking their cars to block streets, petrol stations, motorways, banks and other public buildings within hours of the government’s announcement. Many Iranians will find it difficult to afford such a rise, given the slump in Iran’s economy and currency since May last year when President Trump reimposed crippling sanctions.
The cities of Tehran, Tabriz, Mashhad, Shiraz, Gorgan, Khorramabad, Qom, Ilam, and Karaj are among some of the major cities in which protesters have taken to the streets.
In some cities, demonstrators have found creative ways to express their discontent. In Chalus, a university professor came to work riding a donkey to protest against the price hike.
Female protesters, commonly referred to as the ‘White Wednesday’ movement, have tied in their ongoing struggle against forced veiling, and have been pictured taking to the streets without their hijabs.
However, since Friday the protests have become increasingly volatile, with clashes erupting between security forces and protesters.
By Saturday night videos were circulating on social media showing the authorities firing tear gas at protesters, and rioters setting fire to banks around the country. A video of the Tabriz protests have shown a car trying to ram into anti-riot police, whilst 15 gas stations were raided and set on fire in Esfahan.
Protestors can also be heard shouting ‘death to dictatorship’ and ‘death to Khamenei’, amongst other slogans targeting the entirety of the regime.
The crackdown on protesters has received widespread condemnation around the world, including a statement from the White House supporting “the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them.”.
However, The Islamic Republic of Iran ambassador in London has said that current events shows:
“the strong bond between the state and the people in Iran”.
The government has said Monday had been “calmer,” despite “some minor issues”.
As of now, at least 12 protesters are confirmed killed, as well as one policemen. However, activists on the ground have reported that the real number is likely to surpass 40 fatalities.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his address to state television on Sunday, confirmed there had been loss of life. He said “some lost their lives and some places were destroyed,” without elaborating.
Khamenei also voiced his support for the government’s decision to raise gas prices. Khamenei blamed “hooligans” for damaging property and accused foreign enemies of “sabotage,” and inciting the violence, saying: “The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so.”
Since Saturday morning, the regime started cracking down on internet connections. Netblock reported that Iran has “implemented a near-total internet shutdown” in an attempt to smother the widespread protests, following initial reported outages in Mashhad.
Netblock have said:
“The ongoing disruption constitutes a severe violation of the basic rights and liberties of Iranians”
Going on to call it the most severe shutdown the group has tracked in any country “in terms of its technical complexity and breadth”. Not only is fixed-internet access down, but data connectivity for the largest mobile operators – MCI, Rightel and Irancell – are also offline.
The authorities initially stated the internet would be shut down for a maximum of 24 hours, however it has now been 40 hours and connections are still running at around 7% of normal capacity.
This crackdown on communications aims not just to interfere with and contain the protests, but also to the flow of news reaching the outside world. This is a tactic used often by un-democratic regimes attempting to control their population and limit press freedom. It echoes similar moves by the Pakistani government in September and Russia, who has recently approved a bill allowing the government to shut down internet access should it decide to.