The following article was written by Iranian citizen journalists on the ground inside the country, who write under a pseudonym to protect their identities
After years of trying to control the population through propaganda, brute force and censorship, what authorities had feared finally began to unfold. On November 15, the government announced it was raising gas prices, prompting widespread unrest and mass protests in cities across Iran. Frustrated and desperate, people went out on the streets to show their anger.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) fear riots across Iran as much it does a US military attack, two individuals with close links to IRGC operations told IranWire earlier this year.
In exclusive interviews, two members of the paramilitary Basij group, which is part of and under the control of the IRGC, told IranWire that they had received additional urban warfare training over the last several days. The Basij members, who asked to remain anonymous and refrained from saying which cities they were based in, are from two different provinces of Iran, one from the south and the other from the north.
In late 2017 and early 2018, demonstrations broke out in both of the Basij members’ provinces, and across dozens of cities across the country. “Since those demonstrations, we’ve had regular training on how to confront rioters in our city and the adjacent areas,” the Basiji from southern Iran said. “But in the last few days, we have had regular training and have been asked to be ready to confront riots.” The Basij member said that, as far as he knew, all other Basij bases across Iran have also been put on alert to suppress any demonstrations in case of a military attack. “The training includes watching videos of different demonstrations from last year and learning how to prevent demonstrations by rounding up the leaders of before they start,” he said. “One of our main jobs is to infiltrate Telegram channels of different groups in the area and monitor different Instagram accounts to find out which people are the most active people and what they are discussing.”
One of the Basijis said they agreed to talk to IranWire because they did not want to take part in violence against his own people, and said that he joined the Basij only because he had some problems in the past that could only be solved by joining the Basij, without explaining further.
The Organization for the Mobilization of the Oppressed, or the Basij, was founded after the Iranian revolution with the remit of providing military training to all citizens of Iran. No official records of how many of Iran’s 80 million citizens are actually members of the Basij, but one Basij commander claimed that the organization had more than 25 million registered members. And in order to join various institutions in Iran, it is obligatory for people to be a member of the Basij. Many people have joined the organization in order to keep their jobs or be able to continue to study.
Nonetheless, a large number of Basij members have joined for ideological reasons and regard it as part of their duty to serve Imam Mahdi, the 12th and hidden Imam or saint of Shias, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is regarded in Shia Islam as the Imam Mahdi’s representative in his absence.
The other Basij member IranWire spoke to, who hails from a northern province, has an even more interesting story. He was among those arrested and imprisoned for demonstrating in early 2018. He says he was kept in a small cell with dozens of prisoners and regularly beaten and tortured. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for “endangering the security of the nation” and “taking part in illegal gatherings.” The only way for him to be released on bail was to join the Basij and sign a letter that he would act as an informer for the group.
He also says that many of his friends from his neighborhood are in the same situation. “We have to have religious and ideological classes twice a week and report on the events in the neighborhood,” he said. He added that he’s been given a job in the IRGC’s Poverty Alleviation unit, which works in poor neighborhoods across Iran and help residents with housing, medical needs and education. “This is the only job I can find because other jobs check my criminal background and because of my prison sentence.” He also said that he and his friends have been asked to report to the IRGC about the area on a daily basis, and have been threatened that if they do not cooperate they can be thrown back in jail, or worse. “The Basij commander told us that if the Americans attack and if we take part in any demonstrations, we will immediately be executed,” he said. “The Basij commander said, ‘in peace time we treat you as rioters and you are subjected to Islamic kindness, but in wartime, you’d be considered as a traitor and executed summarily.”
Reza Ahmadian and Babak Toofani, IranWire citizen journalists
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