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Unemployment Protest: What Happened at Iran’s Aqdara Gold Mine?

September 12, 2023
Roghayeh Rezaei
5 min read
On July 31, two young job seekers were holding a sit-in protest near the Aqdara gold mine in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province when the police arrived and asked for reinforcement
On July 31, two young job seekers were holding a sit-in protest near the Aqdara gold mine in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province when the police arrived and asked for reinforcement

On July 31, two young job seekers were holding a sit-in protest near the Aqdara gold mine in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province when the police arrived and asked for reinforcement. 

The protest, which originally aimed to address unemployment in the area, escalated into violence in which three residents of the village of Aqdara-e-Vasati were injured. 

During the night, security forces raided the village, brutally beating the villagers and arresting 40 of them.

Hojjat Momeni, who sustained a gunshot wound to his right shoulder, and Nasser Bahramian, who suffered injuries in the genital area, are permanently disabled, according to IranWire sources.

The police officers responsible for these injuries have not faced any legal consequences. As of now, six villagers remain in custody at Urmia Central Prison, with their basic rights being denied  while facing charges that could lead to severe penalties.

Three Injured at the Aqdara Gold Mine

On July 31, IranWire obtained reports suggesting that police officers fired shots at citizens who were seeking employment in front of the Aqdara gold mine.

Aqdara, the second-largest gold mine in Iran, is located approximately 30 kilometers from the city of Takab.

The villagers living around the mine are predominantly Kurdish, and their primary means of livelihood revolve around agriculture. 

In recent years, however, the mine has become a seasonal source of income for several families.

Information received by IranWire suggests that the mine has been employing local residents seasonally, which has allowed it to cut costs. 

The mine primarily hires workers from the surrounding villages during late spring and summer, which coincides with the peak agricultural season. 

During this period, the mine's operations involve extracting soil, which is then transported to the factory by truck. In the colder months, the workers get fired. 

"Instead of hiring workers for the entire year, the mine employs seasonal labor for excavation work for a few months annually," an anonymous source told IranWire. 

"During the summer and the height of agricultural work, they send one or two family members to work in the mine. In the winter, some venture to Tehran, Urmia or Tabriz for other job opportunities," the source added. 

On July 31, two young individuals from the village of Aqdara-e-Vasati staged a sit-in in front of the mine to protest the lack of work opportunities, according to the source.

In response, the mine’s management called the police and a growing number of villagers gathered at the scene in support of the protesters. 

"While there were typically three policemen stationed at the mine, it seemed insufficient on this occasion. They called for reinforcements from Takab totaling seven or eight officers. The situation escalated, with threats being exchanged and shots being fired into the air," the source revealed.

"Unfortunately, one bullet struck Hojjat Momeni in the right shoulder. People grew increasingly agitated and demanded that police put down their weapons. But the police continued to fire without apparent reason, with one bullet hitting Nasser Bahramian and another hitting Ramin Nikzad," the source said. 

The injured were transported by ambulance to Takab and from there to the cities of Zanjan and Urmia. 

"The local population is grappling with hunger, and many young people are unemployed. They simply requested to be hired for a few months to earn a living, given that this mine is located on their land," the source said.

Arrest of 40 Villagers during Overnight Raid

The source told IranWire that at around 4:00 a.m. on August 1, approximately 120 security forces coming from nearby cities launched a surprise attack on Aqdara-e-Vasati.

These forces, backed by paramilitary Basiji forces stationed in the village, brutally assaulted the villagers, including men and women who bravely attempted to prevent the arrest of their loved ones.

"Khalil Aftabi, the manager of the stone mine, was subjected to severe beatings which resulted in a 10-centimeter gash on his head. Others suffered injuries as well. Women who tried to help the men were not spared and bore numerous bruises on their bodies. The girls were left traumatized to the point where the mere sound of a door closing terrifies them," the source explained. 

The officers loaded the 40 arrested men, some of whom were bleeding, into vans and transported them to Takab. 

From there, they were transferred to Urmia's central prison by bus amidst a barrage of insults.

In the village, house doors and windows were shattered, and the women bore visible bruises on their heads and faces. One elderly woman had been dragged to the ground by her hair as she tried to prevent her son from being taken away.

Six People Remain in Limbo

Out of the 40 individuals who were apprehended, all but six have been released on hefty bail: Khalil Aftabi, his brother Ahmad Aftabi, Ismail Teymori, Mahmoud Barfar, Yaqoub Eskandari and Hamid Anosheh.

As previously reported by the human rights news agency Hengaw, they face charges of "disrupting public order," "acting against the country's internal security" and "kidnapping."

"They used force against the villagers, launching an attack on the village in the dead of night. After subjecting them to beatings, injuries, and violence, they forcibly detained them. And now they claim these young men are kidnappers," a source told IranWire. 

The source said that the prisoners are denied the right to legal representation and are allowed to make only sporadic phone calls to their immediate family members.

Those wounded have not received adequate medical attention, which resulted in the deterioration of their physical conditions during incarceration.

According to the source, the families' efforts to secure the release of these young people have yielded no results. 

Judicial authorities have informed the families that they will either be released after September 16, which will mark the anniversary of Mahsa Amini's death, or they remain in detention until September 26, when their court hearing is scheduled. It will be at the judge's discretion whether they are granted bail or not. 

Simultaneously, the families have been told to prepare for hefty bail and fine amounts that most of them won’t be able to afford.



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