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Society & Culture

Iran's War Against Dogs — and the Activists who Refuse to Give up

February 23, 2016
Shima Shahrabi
7 min read
Iran's War Against Dogs — and the Activists who Refuse to Give up
Iran's War Against Dogs — and the Activists who Refuse to Give up
Iran's War Against Dogs — and the Activists who Refuse to Give up
Iran's War Against Dogs — and the Activists who Refuse to Give up


On February 22, a crowd of animal rights supporters gathered outside the Environmental Protection Agency to protest against animal cruelty in Iran. The demonstration followed the publication of a video that showed a man, possibly a hunter, torturing a dog. Other protests followed in Tehran and Mashhad. 

“Ebtekar come out; Ebtekar come out!” some of the protesters shouted, calling on Iran’s vice president and head of the environment agency Masoumeh Ebtekar to explain the government’s failure to take action against those who abuse and torture animals.

“Whenever a video or a picture of cruelty to animals is released, officials think they can resolve it with promises and a few lines on Telegram,” said Negar, one of the protesters. But, she insisted, nothing had changed. “We must pursue the matter until we can secure minimum rights for stray animals such as dogs and cats.”

Protesters said they had already organized the next rally, which is due to take place on February 24 outside Iran’s parliament building.

The 50-second video was posted across social media, and shows a man viciously beating a dog, which is heard whimpering in pain. As the video continues, the man picks up the dog and throws it against a parked car. The dog yelps again and then rushes inside the open door of the car. The attacker then pursues the dog again, hitting him while he is inside the car. Laughter can be heard in the background as a group of people look on. The dog rushes from the car and jumps on to the back of a truck bed, where the man hits it with a shovel. As the man continues to strike the dog, the laughter is somewhat less prominent and a man with a local accent shouts out: “Stop! You’ll kill it!”

In the video, the truck’s license plate can clearly be identified as belonging to Golestan province in northeastern Iran.

On Sunday, February 21, Colonel Hamid-Reza Kheildar, head of the Environmental Protection Unit of the Iranian police, reported that the person responsible had been arrested.

“This afternoon, I saw shocking video of animal cruelty on Telegram,” Kheildar told Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA). “I immediately contacted the security police of Golestan province. When it was followed up we realized that the video was taken in the town of Kalaleh in Golestan province.”

The colonel said that the culprit had been arrested in less than 24 hours and given a judicial subpoena. He also reported that the dog was receiving treatment.

But this was not enough for animal rights protesters, who gathered outside the Environmental Protection Agency offices in Golestan and left a string of comments on Vice President Ebtekar’s Instagram page. Protesters demanded to know more, and asked local authorities to verify the news. Eventually, an official emerged and confirmed it was true: a man had been arrested. A few hours later, a photograph showing a man in handcuffs appeared on various sites, his face blurred. He was identified as Bahram Mohammad Eyvaz-Zadeh, age 54 from the village of Goneili village in Kahaleh county, Golestan province.

In a short interview with Radio Farda, Eyvaz-Zadeh confirmed that the video was genuine and that he had beaten the dog because it had eaten his lunch.

Death by Acid Injection

Last weekend’s video is the just the latest in a string of evidence of animal cruelty in Iran. Ten months ago, an animal rights campaigner sent Fars News Agency a video that was widely shared across social networks. The video showed city contractors at an industrial complex in Shiraz killing dogs by injecting them with acid, footage that led to outrage among campaigners and culminated in a large protest outside the Environmental Protection Agency’s office in Shiraz.

“Under Iran’s penal code, there are no explicit laws to deal with the situation,” Farshid Rofugaran, who represented the case for the Society for the Protection of Animals, told IranWire at the time. “There are punishments for abusing domesticated animals or even cutting down a date palm. Article 13 of the Hunting Laws specifically refers to punishments for abusing or killing wild animals.” But, he says, there is a legal vacuum when it comes to stray animals — dogs and cats — and even birds like crows, which could be considered to be scavengers or a nuisance.

Masoumeh Ebtekar echoed Rofugaran’s statements, telling last year’s crowd in Shiraz: “Cruelty to animals is not acceptable in any situation — but there is a legal vacuum.”

After the events of recent days, Ebtekar said on Instagram that she was working on a bill to prevent cruelty to animals. “Many dear followers have asked questions about the recent dog abuse in Golestan,” she wrote. “The culprit...has been arrested and the abused dog is alive and is being treated. And due to popular outcry and demands, the Environmental Protection Agency — although it has no legal responsibility for stray animals especially in cities — has presented the government with a single-article bill for managing the situation for these animals and preventing their abuse.”

Farhad Dabiri, the agency’s Vice President for Biodiversity, said that the draft bill includes provisions for punishing those who abuse or kill stray animals. But there were exceptions, he said, explaining that there would be no punishment for killing a rabid animal if destruction of the animal was thought to be crucial to the protection of human beings. According to Dabiri, the Interior Ministry and the Environmental Protection Agency will present the bill jointly to government within three months.

But animal rights campaigners are not convinced by any of this: not by the photograph of the arrested criminal, or by reassurances that the abused dog is being looked after, or by politicians’ promises to take decisive action in parliament to combat animal cruelty.  

Widespread Abuse

“These defenseless animals are not safe in Iran,” says Mona, who works at a shelter for stray cats and dogs. “People bring animals to us that have clearly been abused. For example, one person brought in a cat that had lost an eye because someone had subjected it to stoning.” Mona told IranWire that she believed some Iranians’ cruelty toward animals could be attributed to inadequate education, at least to an extent. “Such things would not happen if we familiarized children with animals and taught them how to treat them. Unfortunately, not only do we as children not learn how to treat animals well, but we are actually taught to be especially cruel to dogs because we are told that, according to Islam, they are dirty and we should not touch them.”

Mona was one of many people who participated in the rally outside the environmental agency. “All we want is a law to protect cats and dogs. One day the city government kills dogs and the next day a hunter abuses a dog.”

Animal rights activist Jila, who founded the Pardis Animal Shelter in the provincial capital of Tabriz, also took part in the protest. In 2014 she told IranWire that she decided to set up the shelter after visiting the city’s animal disposal unit, where the dogs were put to death. “There were between 200 or 300 dogs picked up around the town,” she said. “There was no talk of anesthesia or painless death. They finished the job with bullets". In their efforts to clear the streets quickly, she said that those in charge of the operation did not even make sure the dogs were dead when they buried them. “Some dogs were buried alive. It did not help the city's bottom line to buy ketamine and kill the dog after it was unconscious. So they used any other means to kill them off.”

Ali also participated in the rally on February 22. “I have had tears in my eyes since I saw the video,” he said. “I have witnessed cruelty to animals many times. For example, in my own neighborhood I saw somebody pouring boiling water over a cat. And somebody else set fire to a cat’s tail. And we have seen a lot more of this behavior recently because of Telegram and social networks. When uneducated people consider dogs to be dirty because of their religious beliefs, what can you expect?”

Ali also remembered another shocking event last year, when a police officer shot a dog dead in front of his owner. Photographs of the dog’s owner crying over his dog Bobby were circulated online, leading to an outpouring of support and widespread condemnation. The owner filed a legal complaint against the officer, but no action was taken. “But this time it’s different,” says Ali. “This time we are determined to continue our protests until a solid law protecting animal rights is introduced into Iranian law.”



Related articles:

Man is a Beast to Man: Human and Animal Rights in Iran

Killing “Dirty” Dogs

The Trials and Trepidations of Iranian Pet Lovers

Podcast: Dogs, Iran’s Political Animals


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