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Protests in Iran: A Chronology

January 5, 2018
Shima Shahrabi
11 min read
The protests began in the holy city of Mashhad on December 28, but quickly spread to other cities
The protests began in the holy city of Mashhad on December 28, but quickly spread to other cities
Protests in Iran: A Chronology
Protests in Iran: A Chronology

On January 3, the news site for the office of Tehran’s prosecutor reported that the prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, had paid a surprise visit to a number of individuals who had been arrested during recent protests. According to the site, during the face-to-face meeting, some of the accused “expressed repentance” and said that they had been influenced by illegal calls to protest from various websites, including social networking sites. The prosecutor's site also reported that the detainees had expressed their satisfaction with the way they had been treated in prison and that Dowlatabadi had allowed certain detainees with “special” needs to call their families.

But the sister of a young man who was arrested on December 30 in Revolution Avenue in Tehran told IranWire: “We still do not know where and under what conditions my brother is detained. He made a brief phone call on Monday and said that he had been arrested. The number from which he was calling did not show up on the screen.”

Her brother’s name is Hamid Reza and he is 22. People suggested that the family go to the Security and Anti-Corruption police in Vozara Avenue, but when they did they were told that those arrested during the protests were not detained there. They also went to the courthouse at Evin Prison but could not find out anything. “What the hell are we going to do if my brother has been taken to a place like Kahrizak?” She then broke down in tears.

Hamid Reza’s sister is referring to the notorious Kahrizak Prison, often dubbed Iran's Guantánamo Bay, where some of those detained during the 2009 protests were sent, and where three of them — Mohsen Rouhalamini, Amir Javadifar and Mohammad Kamrani — lost their lives under torture and due to medical neglect.

But Hamid Reza's family is not the only family anxiously waiting for news about their loved ones. It has been a week since street protests broke out in many Iranian cities, and since then there have been various reports about the number of those arrested or killed. The latest reports say that more than 1,500 have been arrested in various cities and the official number of those killed stands at 25.

Thursday, December 28

The protests started in the holy city of Mashhad, the capital of the northeastern province of Razavi Khorasan, and two other cities in the province, Neishabur and Kashmar. During the protests, “No to high prices” was one of the slogans regularly shouted out by demonstrators. Some protesters told IranWire they had received calls to join protest rallies via Telegram channels.

Supporters of President Rouhani claimed that these calls came from supporters of Ebrahim Raeesi, Rouhani’s defeated rival in the 2017 presidential election, and who is also the guardian of the Astan Quds Razavi foundation, the biggest religious endowment in Iran, headquartered in Mashhad. Their aim, Rouhani supporters say, was to use rising prices and unemployment to bring people out against Rouhani’s administration. But it backfired, and when people from various sectors of society joined the rallies, the slogans turned political and anti-regime.

According to eyewitnesses and videos published on social networking sites, when the slogans turned political, the police resorted to violence against demonstrators, trying to disperse them by using water cannons and teargas. That day, in an interview with Fars News Agency, the supervisor of Mashhad Revolutionary Court announced that 52 protesters had been arrested in the city [Persian link]. “Law,” he said, “would never appease people who want to exploit social conditions to bother other citizens and disrupt security.”

Friday, December 29

The call to protest against high prices went out in Mashhad, but the security clampdown prevented further demonstrations in that city on Friday. But then protests spread to Rasht, Kermanshah, Ahvaz, Qom, Sari, Zahedan, Qazvin and towns in the province of Lorestan. Demonstrators in these cities chanted slogans against the Islamic Republic and the Supreme Leader and in praise of the monarchy.

One of the biggest demonstrations took place in Kermanshah, the capital of a western province with the same name. Since a deadly earthquake hit Kermanshah in November 2017, many rural people in the province have been homeless. The demonstration ended in violence after the police attacked protesters with water cannons and tear gas and made many arrests.

The semi-official Fars News Agency, as expected, labeled the protesters “counter-revolutionary” and reported that they had damaged and destroyed public property. “As of now a considerable number of leading provocateurs responsible for street unrest and individuals who played a key role in destroying public property have been identified and arrested,” Kermanshah’s Prosecutor General Mohammad Hossein Sadeghi told Rokna news website [Persian link]. “Right-minded citizens are expected to cooperate with the police and security forces in identifying these individuals.” He added that some of the culprits were under close surveillance even though they might not all face arrest pending the findings of the surveillance. But he did not offer any figure for the number of people who had been arrested.

Saturday, December 30

On Saturday, protests reached Tehran and a number of other cities. 

Since the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election and the huge protests that followed, regime supporters have marked December 30 — the day when pro-government demonstrations were held as a counterpoint to the 2009 summer unrest — by organizing rallies against protesters who challenged the official results of the election that secured a second term for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But this year, it was anti-government protesters who dominated the day, chanting slogans against the leadership and against high prices, and calling for political freedom. The protests started at the gates of Tehran University on Revolution Avenue and spread from there. The police and students clashed and the police used water cannon to disperse students and arrested a number of them. Mansour Gholami, the minister of science, told the Iranian Student’s News Agency (ISNA) that he did not know how many students had been arrested [Persian link], and he claimed that they had been released “because they played no role” in the demonstrations.

But the same day, Kasra Nouri, a Master's Degree student in Human Rights, and Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam and other Gonabadi Sufi dervishes were arrested. They have since been on hunger strike in prison. On that day, the protests forced metro stations on Revolution and Valiasr avenues to close.

Tehran governor’s deputy in security affairs reported that 200 “agents of foreigners” had been arrested at Saturday’s protest rallies.

On Saturday, protests spread to other cities as well. Ali Aghazadeh, governor of Markazi (“central”) Province, announced that 100 protesters had been arrested in Arak, the capital of the province. In Abhar in the northwestern province of Zanjan, protesters tore down a picture of Ayatollah Khamenei.

Initially, the BBC reported that six protesters had been shot in Dorud in the western province of Lorestan, but later reduced the number to two in a subsequent report. Hami Reza Kazemi, a member of the parliament from the province, confirmed that two protesters had been shot dead [Persian link] and said that “the police had no choice but to shoot at the troublemakers.”

Mashallah Nemati, Dorud’s governor, announced that four people had been killed, but he said two of them died when protesters hijacked a fire engine and abandoned it without first making sure the brakes were engaged [Persian link]. The fire engine then ran over two people, a father and son named Gholam Reza and Shahriar Hadavand. Fars News Agency published a video of an interview with the wife and mother of the men, during which she demanded that the demonstrators responsible be punished as murderers.

Sunday, December 31

On December 31, protests continued in a number of cities including Tehran, Karaj, Gohar Dasht, Arak, Bandar Abbas and Dorud. There were reports that banks, government buildings and police vehicles had been attacked and set on fire. State-run TV reported that six people had been killed in Tuyserkan in Hamadan Province and three in Shahin Shahr in Isfahan Province.

The governor of Izeh, a city in the tribal areas of Khuzestan, told ISNA that two people had been killed during the day and a number had been injured [Persian link]. He said it was not clear whether the shots had been fired by the police or by demonstrators. A day later, Mostafa Somali, governor of Izeh, told Fars News Agency [Persian link] that on Sunday three of the rioters had shot and killed a 16-year-old youngster two kilometers from the scene of clashes. He said that the police had arrested the three people responsible.

On Sunday night, President Rouhani broke his silence and urged people to remain calm. “People have the right to criticize,” he said, but added that the authorities would not tolerate anti-social behavior. He said that criticism was “different from violence and destroying public property.”

Monday, January 1

Protests continued in various cities and near the end of the day, there were further reports of deaths and injuries. The Young Reporters Club, affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIRB), reported: “In Najaf Abad in Isfahan, a rioter shot at the police with a hunting rifle, injuring three and martyring one.” But Fars News Agency reported that the shoot-out had resulted in two deaths, that of one policeman and one member of the Revolutionary Guards.

Iranian TV reported that six were dead after clashes in Qahderijan, a city in Isfahan Province. The clashes followed demonstrators’ attempts to occupy the offices of the city’s governor. “The armed attack was conducted by rioters and the evidence is clear,” Asghar Hedayat, the governor of Qahderijan, was quoted as saying. “The police showed mercy even when the rioters entered the yard, but when they tried to disarm the police they took decisive action and a number were killed.”

It was also reported that in Khomeini Shahr, also in Isfahan Province, an 11-year-old boy had been shot dead when he and his family were trying to get past clashes. And according to the state-run TV, a member of the Revolutionary Guards was shot dead in Najaf Abad in Isfahan.

Tuesday, January 2

Ali Asghar Naserbakht, deputy Tehran governor for political and security affairs, announced that 450 people had been arrested during protests in Tehran. He said there had been no protests in Tehran on Tuesday. Others reported that streets in Tehran and other big cities were under a security clampdown.

Naser Atabati, Ardabil’s Prosecutor General, announced that 40 protesters had been detained. “After interrogations it became clear that most were driven by emotions to take part in the rallies and they were released [after being given] a warning and signing a pledge,” he said. “But 15 of those responsible for disrupting public order and safety were put under arrest by the order of the court.”

General Hossein Ashtari, commander of the national police, said: “Most of those arrested were not in financial difficulties. The leaders and the chief instigators have been delivered to judicial authorities.” He added that all police commanders across the country had been ordered to act decisively toward disrupters of public order and “plunderers” of public and private property, but to differentiate between them and normal people.

Wednesday, January 3

On January 3, government supporters participated in counter-demonstrations in many cities across Iran. 

"Today, we can say it is the end of ‘sedition 1396,’" said General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the top commander of Revolutionary Guards, referring to the Iranian calendar year. "With the help of God, their defeat is assured.”

Thousands of government supporters marched through the capital Tehran, state-run TV reported, with some chanting "Death to America" after Iranian officials blamed the United States and its allies for provoking the anti-government rallies. Online state media reported that a mix of people — families, senior citizens and students — were among the demonstrators, but images on television showed mostly middle-aged and older men. Many people held pictures of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and waved national flags, Reuters reported.

At the same time, Fars News Agency reported that three “unknown soldiers” in Piranshahr, a city in West Azerbaijan Province, had been martyred. The term “unknown soldier” is routinely used by the Islamic Republic for its intelligence agents killed in action. According to Fars, in the last few days, three armed terrorist teams that had entered western Iran to foment unrest and conduct assassinations had been identified and arrested.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Today, Hamid Reza’s sister went to Evin Prison. She stood outside a small door and gave her brother’s name to the soldier. The soldier went inside and returned after a few minutes. “He is not here,” he told her. “You must go to the courthouse.” So she went to the courthouse again, but again could not find out anything. “Pray that he will be released as soon as possible,” she told IranWire. “He is only 22.”



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