Unrest in the once-tranquil city of Izeh, in the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan, started on November 16, when government forces opened fire on protesters.
At least seven people were reported killed, including two children named Kian Pirfalak and Sepehr Maqsoodi, with government officials labeling the massacre as a "terrorist" act and attributing it to government opponents.
Government media recently reported an armed confrontation between security forces and a faction of "well-armed and experienced criminals" in Izeh.
Hamshahri Online, a media outlet affiliated with the Tehran municipality, reported on August 23: "Early this morning, after the whereabouts and activities of armed criminals in the city of Izeh were successfully identified, the authorities issued orders for their arrest. However, this operation was met with fierce armed resistance by these malevolent individuals. A violent exchange of gunfire ensued which culminated in the demise of two of these individuals, while three others were successfully apprehended."
The narrative of Izeh residents, however, diverges significantly from the official accounts.
What is unfolding in Izeh?
From the evening of August 22 until the next morning, gunshots reverberated across Izeh, sparking rumors that police had entered the urban areas of the city to apprehend individuals implicated in the drug trade.
A clash between the drug traffickers and security forces appeared to be taking place, but reality proved far more complex.
"The dawn of August 23 was marked by a cacophony of gunfire. Special forces had entered the city a day or two earlier, and none of the uniformed personnel patrolling the streets were from Izeh," a local resident who lost a relative named Mehdi Almasi in the turmoil told IranWire.
"Amid these clashes, two young men, Kamar (Hossein) Tahmasbi and another young man close to us, Mehdi Almasi, met their untimely demise. In addition, a 15-year-old boy by the name of Babak Bahmani who was en route to his home in the embattled South Hafez neighborhood, sustained serious injuries to both legs before being abducted."
According to this source, the family of Babak Bahmani, the 15-year-old bystander who sustained injuries during this upheaval, received a terse ten-second phone call from him.
"Rumors from unofficial sources suggest that Babak has been transferred to a hospital in Ahvaz (the provincial capital). The entity responsible for the arrests, as well as the rationale behind them, remains unknown."
This Izeh resident attested that a night preceding the turmoil, a tumultuous altercation erupted near the Mohammed Rasulullah forest park in Izeh.
What prompted the unrest?
The violence can be traced back to May 12, when a group of armed individuals traveling in a car launched an attack on a café in Izeh and killed local media activist Akbar Limochi.
Government media claimed that Kamar Tahmasbi and Mehdi Almasi were involved in the assault, an assertion that has been disputed by a person close to Almasi.
"The backdrop to this is rooted in events since November 16, when Kian Pirfalak and other innocent citizens of Izeh became victims of security agents,” this source said. “After that, the government embarked on a campaign of misinformation in an attempt to shift blame onto activists and protestors in Izeh for the loss of lives.”
"These claims are patently false and baseless, a narrative that crumbled when met with the resolute resistance and revelations from the bereaved families of Izeh. Regarding Akbar Limochi's demise, whatever opinions the city's populace held about him, it’s clear that no Izeh resident was involved. Yet, the government persists in perpetuating these unfounded narratives."