At 8pm on July 16, the people of Behbahan gathered in front of the National Bank building in the city and chanted slogans against high prices and against the death penalty.
The protests coincided with the virtual campaign #Do_not_execute launched on Twitter in protest against the death sentences of three Iranians involved in nationwide protests in November 2019. The Twitter campaigned trended around the world and drew millions of retweets.
Arya, a protestor at the Behbahan rally, told IranWire that he was informed of the rally through a text message and rushed to the National Bank building in the center of the city.
The Behbahan protests also saw a significant presence of women protesters, Arya said. The women were standing on the other side of the square, out of sight of the cameras to avoid being photographed, but they were far more numerous than the men.
"The women were standing on the side of the street, on the north side leading to Javanmardi Square. ... In the last hours of the rally ... the police at the crossroads could no longer bear the protests and turned towards the protesting youth. As soon as one of them approached a protesting young person, women began to ‘whistle’ in a group and in a coordinated manner, and continued to gather, until the officer moved away from the young protester. In fact, they were giving a kind of warning and a challenge. It seemed very rare and different to me, and it was the first time I had seen such behavior during urban protests."
According to Arya, although a number of people gathered at the scene at 8pm, passers by gradually joined the crowd, and passing cars parked in the surrounding alleys and accompanied the protesters.
Sarah, another participant at the rally, said that peoples’ demands, contrary to claims of the police force commander of Behbahan, were not purely economic. After the killing of young people in the streets of Behbahan in past protests , a strange rage had grown across the city.
Sarah was referring to the November 2019 protests, which began after the sudden rise in gasoline prices in various cities and continued for several days. Behbahan was also a scene of the November protests, and some of the city's protesters were killed by security forces during the crackdown.
According to Reuters, 1,500 people were killed by security forces during those protests. Last night, people also dallied out the names of those killed in November.
"One of the slogans people chanted was to repeat the names of those killed in November," Sarah said. "They chanted ‘Dashti God Bless You,’ reviving the memory of Mehrdad Dashtinia and Mahmoud Dashtinia, two brothers who were killed during the November protests in Behbahan."
The slogans were "Iranians, die; but do not accept humiliation,” "Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life for Iran," "We do not want a clerical government, we do not want it," "Cannon, tanks, firecrackers, the mullah must get lost," "Shame on the Basij [paramilitary], let the country go," and "Death to the dictator."
Arya believes that people's motives for participating in last night's protests were different.
"A group of younger people, generally 18 to 20, took to the streets in protest against the death sentence handed down to three detainees from the November protests. The rising cost of living is the main cause of dissatisfaction and has broken the backs of the people of this city, who are mainly retailers and have limited and struggling businesses. Even among the protesters, there were those who were angry about the agreement between Iran and China."
Arya was referring to a recent 25-year agreement between Iran and China over oil and a range of other interests.
Arya says the police were more lenient with people before 11pm, but as it got closer to midnight, the clashes became more violent.
He added that the area between the National Bank intersection and Javanmardi Square had become a war zone. People were fleeing, special forces were filming protesters more even than during the November protests last year; finally, they fired tear gas. People were sent to their homes around midnight.
Arya said: "After the rally was over, several informal garbage collectors, who search for food or batteries in refuse, came with bags over their necks and started collecting garbage from the streets. It was a painful scene and a sign that the people are right to protest for a piece of bread."
According to Arya, the people of Behbahan are fed up with economic hardship. On the sidelines of the rally, he asked an old man who was present, despite his old age, about his motivation for participating in the protest.
"The old man said that last month he had bought a two-kilo chicken for 20,000 tomans [$1] and last week he bought the same chicken for 40,000 tomans. He said he was a peddler and sells mountain vegetables and mats around Bidboland Square. He asked me how should he support his family? Poverty is crushing people. Those who say that people on the street are dupes and enemies, I am sure their tables are not empty and that they do not grieve over the well-being of their wives and children."
Arya added that the protesters were not violent. "People clapped with their slogans all the time and not a single stone was thrown by the protesters. And I must say that for the first hour, the police tried to stop people more gently than during the November protests. But when they could not force them to return to their homes, they fired warning shots and tear gas, from 10pm."
Colonel Mohammad Azizi, the police force commander of Behbahan, told the Rokna website that a call for the rally had been announced online and a small number of people gathered to protest against the economic situation. He added that the police managed to disperse them with "toughness."
He further explained that there was no damage to property or people in the rally and that the protesters were directed to their homes.
Another resident of Behbahan told IranWire that one of his relatives was arrested last night for interfering in the rally.
"After dispersing the protesters, the police tracked down the route of the rally and arrested those who had called for the rally, at midnight."
The source did not want to be named, but he said security forces had been monitoring the homes of those killed in November 2019 during yesterday’s protest, until midnight, with soldiers stationed in front of their homes.
Yesterday, during the protests, Farzaneh Ansarifar, the sister of Farzad Ansarifar, who was killed in Behbahan last November, was arrested for being on the street and for being a spectator of the protest. She was transferred to the city's intelligence office.
Farzad Ansarifar was a 28-year-old tile-maker who was shot and killed by Kalashnikov gunfire at noon on November 16, 2019, at the corner of Nourian Alley.
His father, Amin Ansarifar, is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and was wounded by a mortar blast.
"Farzaneh has not yet come to terms with the grief of losing her brother," Ansarifar's family neighbor told IranWire. "He is still being held in a detention center in Behbahan and will probably be transferred to a prison in Ahvaz to file a case against her."
He adds: "Farzaneh's father is a veteran and his sister's husband is a policeman. The family is under pressure in several ways, with the death of their eldest child. Over the past few weeks, the authorities have repeatedly warned Farzaneh not to react to her brother's death, or write anything, or attend rallies."
After the protests, internet connections in Behbahan were cut off, and sometime later, the police commander of the city issued a statement with the following subject:
"Dear compatriots! Some hostile individuals and groups try to take actions such as illegal gatherings in the sensitive situation of the country by inciting the feelings of individuals and encouraging them to create tension. But these calls are nothing but the joy of the sworn enemies of the holy system of the Islamic Republic. While being vigilant and preventing any gathering that could be a pretext for the counter-revolutionary movement, the police force, based on its inherent and legal duty, will deal decisively with these desperate acts, and expects people to be vigilant and to reject opportunistic and mercenary elements. Let the police help them to establish public order in our city and country."
Although the police commander told the media that there is now order and security throughout Behbahan, Arya, told IranWire that the number of police officers present on the streets and even in quiet alleyways, to control the situation, and the number of troops deployed around the city, is significant.