In the past week at least 350 people have been detained in seven Iranian cities during the mass protests sparked by the chronic water crisis in Khuzestan, according to a UK-based human rights activist.  

London-based researcher Karim Dahimi told IranWire that the number of detentions seems to have been especially high in the Khuzestani cities of Ramshir, Susangerd and Hoveyzeh, with security forces disproportionately targeting young people.

Thousands of people have taken part in demonstrations since last week over water shortages in Khuzestan blamed on decades of government mismanagement. The Islamic Republic has responded by deploying vast numbers of officers in riot gear onto the streets.

Police and security forces have been filmed indiscriminately firing live ammunition and birdshot at civilians. At least nine people, mostly young men, were known to have been killed by Friday morning.

The total number of people arrested in Khuzestan and other Iranian provinces is not yet known – and in many cases, Dahimi said, nor are their identities. “Families are afraid that giving their names could make the situation worse for their children.”

But, he added: “According to our local sources, 350 citizens have been arrested in Ramshir, Susangerd, Khorramshahr, Hamidiyeh, Shavar, Shush and Ahvaz. At least 120 people were also injured, some of them seriously.

“We know that the number of detainees will be higher because we had news from Hamidiyeh that security forces raided the homes of people who attended the rallies at night, and arrested several of their family members."

Dahimi also said that some of the injured protesters who went to state-run hospitals were arrested there before receiving treatment and taken to unknown locations. “Because of this,” he said, “many injured people refuse to go to the hospitals or clinics, and remove the bullets from their bodies at home.”

A human rights defender has also separately told Amnesty International that on Wednesday, July 21, security and intelligence agents arrested a number of injured protesters recovering in hospital in Susangerd.

"Some of the protesters have been repeatedly shot at by officers," Dahimi said. “In some cases the injuries are superficial. But some are serious and should be treated in a sterile environment. The injured have not gone to hospital for fear of being detained; any infection or worsening of their physical injuries could cost them their lives."

The hot weather can also make even superficial wounds more prone to infection. Images have circulated on social media of a number of Iranian protesters whose bodies have been peppered with birdshot in the classic spray pattern.

A demonstrator from Shahrak-e Jarahi near Mahshahr in Khuzestan told IranWire they knew of two people who had died several days after being shot at in their area. “The two deaths were confirmed today,” they said. “God knows how many more people may be in a critical condition and we might have to hear in the coming days that they’re dead."

Whole Families Detained in Connection with Khuzestan Protests

On the seventh night of the protests in Khuzestan province, the human rights news agency HRANA managed to identify 18 detainees in the cities of Ahvaz, Shusha and Khorramshahr. Eight citizens in the capital, named as Ali Kab Al-Hai, Mohammad Sakhravi, Bassem Heydari, Hassan Saeedi, Abbas Savari, Amer Zohairi, Hamoud Chenani and Hamoud Shamousi, were reportedly taken by security forces to unknown locations.

In Shush, five detainees were named as Khalid Mazraeh, Ali Mazraeh, Ghasem Mazraeh, Faisal Mazraeh and Isa Mazraeh. In Khorramshahr HRANA reported the arrests of Mansour Soleimani, Darem Soleimani, Abdolreza Soleimani, Yarollah Soleimani and his son, Ali Soleimani.

Shima Silavi, a member of the Ahwazi Center for Human Rights, told IranWire citizens have also been arrested en masse in the city of Ramshir. “We’ve managed to identify four of the detainees,” she said. “Namely, Omid Tusi, Jassem Tusi, Mehdi Zoghibi and Hassan Amouri. Of course, we know the real number will be much higher but unfortunately due to the lack of information, it’s not clear what their fate has been.”

A resident of the town of Jarahi – also known as Chamran – told IranWire that after one young protester, Hamid Mojadam, was killed, security forces had ransacked his family home and arrested his three brothers, Ahmad, Mohammad and Ali, along with two of their neighbors. “Hamid’s body has not yet been handed over to the family for burial,” he added. “The grieving family must now seek the release of their other three sons so that they do not suffer the same fate as Hamid."

Internet Shutdown Strikes on Thursday Night

NetBlocks, an organization monitoring internet activity and freedom worldwide, has confirmed mobile internet services in Iran were hit by significant disruption on Thursday night. It followed reports of intermittent shutdowns in Khuzestan earlier in the week. This hampers protesters’ ability to reach out to the wider community and document state abuses of power.

A citizen of Ahvaz told IranWire: “The internet provider companies cite ‘technical problems’ as an excuse in response to their customers asking about the network disruption. Both Hamrah-e Aval and Irancell had their internet connection cut for most of the day [on Thursday]. When it is connected, it’s so slow it allows for practically no activity. I sent a voice message three days ago that reached my friend today."

Many activists believe the government intends to re-use the strategy in Khuzestan that it deployed in November 2019, whereby internet shutdowns were deployed in a bid to mask the killing of civilians. During that seven-day shutdown, Amnesty International believes at least 300 people were killed. Reuters reported that the total was 1,500.

Ahvaz Prosecutor Calls Civilian Protesters ‘Evil Elements’

The Iranian regime is still trying to downplay the extent of the protests and blame them on malign foreign actors. On Thursday, President Hassan Rouhani claimed the killers of the first five civilians had been “rogues” – rather than state security forces.

On Wednesday, July 21, the Ahvaz prosecutor issued a very similar statement in which he said that while "the rightful demands of the people of Khuzestan regarding the province's water rights are understandable", the protesters could be categorized as “troublemakers", "foreign mercenaries," "hypocrites", "separatists" and "evil elements of the counter-revolution". He added that they would be dealt with “with the utmost severity”.

On Thursday Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, tweeted that security forces had been instructed to “immediately release the detainees from recent incidents in Khuzestan who have not committed any criminal acts." Iranian law, however, is frequently interpreted in such a manner that any peaceful protester detained could be accused of a criminal offence. So far, no information has surfaced on anyone who has been released.

Related coverage:

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Rouhani Claims 'Rogues' Responsible for Killings in Khuzestan Protests

In Pictures: Khuzestan's Vanishing Waterways

Iranian Filmmakers, Writers and Teachers' Groups Back Khuzestan Protesters

Solidarity With Khuzestan Water Protests Spills Into Other Iranian Provinces

In Pictures: Khuzestan's Vanishing Waterways

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