Special Features

IranWire Investigation: Shiraz Protests — Agents Shot and Killed Demonstrators

December 30, 2019
Shahed Alavi
24 min read
Security forces and police cracked down on protesters in Shiraz and the surrounding areas in November 2019
Security forces and police cracked down on protesters in Shiraz and the surrounding areas in November 2019
Although there were reports that protesters set banks on fire, there was also speculation that Basij forces had done it themselves
Although there were reports that protesters set banks on fire, there was also speculation that Basij forces had done it themselves

Details continue to emerge about the brutal force Iranian police and security agents used against protesters in Shiraz and across Fars province during the mid-November protests that were prompted by steep increases in gas prices.

Almost immediately after Iranians across the country took to the streets, authorities blocked the internet across Iran, making it extremely difficult for Iranians to access news from outside the country, or for the rest of the world to find out what was happening in Iran. Almost every day since the block has been lifted, people have shared stories of the violent suppression of the protests and the tally of the those killed, injured or arrested keeps rising. 

The most shocking story to come out after the near-total news blackout was the use of tanks and heavy machine guns to subdue protesters in Mahshahr, a port city in the southwestern province of Khuzestan. The Iranian government has yet to officially announce figures regarding the November protests, but according to confidential documents that IranWire received from a Khuzestani official in mid-December, at least 148 people, protesters and bystanders, were gunned down in Mahshahr and towns around it [Persian link].

By no means, however, was Mahshahr an exceptional case. The city of Sadra in Fars province near the provincial capital of Shiraz was also the site of brutal violence and bloodshed.

On Saturday, November 16, and Sunday, November 17, widespread protests took place in Shiraz and its satellite towns. According to Iranian security officials, Shiraz protests ranked number one in terms of the “range of locations and of the blocking of streets” by protesters [Persian link]. As in many other places, protests in this area started with people chanting slogans against rising prices, but soon the chants turned more political, with people shouting out anti-government and anti-regime slogans. A number of government properties and banks were set on fire and both the government and protesters have accused one other of being responsible for the destruction. It has not been possible to verify either side’s claims because the normal process of news gathering was interrupted by the internet shutdown and a general breakdown of communication. 

There is little doubt, however, that, in subduing protests in Shiraz and the surrounding towns, security forces followed a doctrine that, as an expert in “urban warfare” told the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on November 23, directly endorses the use of maximum force [Persian link] to ensure the protests were quashed as soon as possible. The result in the small city of Sadra, for example, was that at least 87 people were killed.

Although the full facts about what happened are still not available, IranWire has tried to draw as clear a picture as possible, presenting eyewitness accounts of what happened during those two days in November in parts of Shiraz and the surrounding towns, as well as in other locations.

 

Sadra City: People Threw Stones. The Officers Killed Them

“Protesters had gathered in front of the paramilitary Basij building. They were throwing stones and chanting. The Basijis had gone to the rooftop. There were not many of them up there. Some were children, a few were young men and [there was] an older man who seemed to be the base commander. The children, who were holding shields, were small and very young but they had been given rifles as well. Fourteen of the protesters, including two women, climbed the wall and entered the Basij building. We heard a barrage of shooting after which the gates to the building opened, an anti-riot vehicle came out of the yard and stopped in front of the crowd. At the same time a helicopter landed on the roof of the building and unloaded ammunition and a few sharpshooters. The man in the anti-riot vehicle threatened people and told them in a foul language to disperse. People started booing him and chanting and the armed Basijis started shooting at the people directly. Many of them fell to the ground right before my eyes. The sharpshooters aimed at people’s heads and hearts.”

This is an account of the bloody afternoon of Saturday, November 16, in the city of Sadra in Fars province, as told by an eyewitness going by the name Razieh. Sadra, 15 kilometers from the provincial capital of Shiraz and with a population of over 150,000, is a new city and was founded in 1992. As a result, the population is made up of migrants from different parts of the country. With three university campuses, Sadra has all the characteristics of a university town, including students from other parts of the country and the province. A resident of the city named Jahandar believes this makes it very difficult to know about the people who were killed in the protests because most probably their bodies were taken to villages and towns where they were originally from and where their families live and buried there.“You will see only a few notices for mourning ceremonies in Sadra,” he says.

 

People chanting in the town of Sadra on the morning of Saturday, November 16: “Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon; my life for Iran”

A student going by the name of Atena got out of a taxi and started on foot toward Molana to return home when she saw a protester who had been shot. “Around 3:15 an ambulance was passing me and stopped after the driver saw a young man whose hand was in a splint and who had blood all over his head and his face,” she says. “When the nurse got out of the ambulance the young man told the nurse: ‘I am all right. Over there they have killed people. Go there.’ The young man was one of those who had been shot in front of the Basij base. Three people had been killed on the spot and he was among the several who had been injured.”

 

Shooting in Sadra: “They have killed eight people as of now. They shoot at the people directly. They are shooting from the rooftop”

Amin, a shopkeeper on Molana Avenue, says in the morning everything was normal but starting at noon the situation gradually became critical, and from around 3pm it was like a warzone. “A man was protesting in a loud voice,” he says. “He had an accent, like of the Lors. Sadra’s population are mostly Lors and Qashqai Turks. A woman was sitting on the ground next to him. I saw the man get shot and when he fell the woman started crying loudly but then she fell too. I don’t know whether they died or not. They were far from us and nobody dared to get close to them."

Sadra on the night of Saturday, November 16: The office of the town’s Friday Imam is set on fire

That night authorities took a large number of the dead and the wounded to Abu Ali Sina Hospital. “It seemed that they had intentionally shot to kill,” says a member of the hospital’s medical staff called Anahita. “Most of those killed were young men, although a few women, middle-aged men and at least one child were among them as well...I don’t know how many of the injured died in surgery after I left or how many more they brought to the hospital after my shift was over. While I was there they sent 28 bodies to the morgue. Afterward my colleagues told me that the number of bodies had reached 87. Security agencies threatened the hospital staff that they must not talk about what they had seen.”

A man called Mehrdad says most of the people he saw being killed were shot from the rooftop of the Basij base, although he also witnessed people in front of the gate to the building being shot. “After the gates were suddenly opened, a Basiji or a member of the Revolutionary Guards rode in an anti-riot vehicle to the front and when people ignored his warnings he shot directly at them. Three people in front were killed immediately and a number of those behind them were injured. The rest of the shootings came from the rooftop of the Basij building. After the helicopter arrived the shooting intensified. It was a horrible situation. People were unarmed and were easily shot down. Nobody had imagined that they would shoot them down like this.”

Sadra: People being shot from the rooftop of the paramilitary Basij base. A helicopter arrives with sharpshooters and ammunition for the Basijis

Sadra: The office of the town’s Friday Imam is set on fire for a second time. People are shot at with intensity. Protesters chant: “I will kill whoever killed my brother”

A man using the alias Ahmad Reza says he saw a little boy in a school uniform.  “Later I learned from the news that his name was Mohammad Dastankhah and he was shot in the heart by the sharpshooters,” Ahmad Reza says. “This child and another one who was also wearing school uniform cowered on the ground and they were targeted by the sharpshooters. Mohammad rolled on the ground. These guys were really murderers. They were barbarians.”

A friend of Anahita who works at a small private clinic in Sadra told her that on Saturday, around 70 wounded were brought to the clinic. “According to her, 10 of the wounded who were in critical condition were sent to Abu Ali Sina Hospital although there was no hope that they would survive. They were hemorrhaging internally and it was not clear what could be done for them in that madhouse.”

Jahandar says a number of the injured did not seek medical treatment because they were afraid they would be arrested. If they had been shot with pellets they tried to get them out of their arms and legs by using a knife. “They are still scared,” he says. “Starting on Monday, November 18, security agents went to shops and clinics to get CCTV records and it was then that large-scale arrests started.”

A doctor working at the hospital on Saturday gave his perspective. “The director of the hospital, who can work and live anywhere in the world if he wanted to, must speak up. The ethics of medicine has no meaning here. He knows that from noon on Monday, November 18, through to the early morning of Tuesday more than 80 bodies were brought to the morgue under his management. Why doesn’t he speak up? Everybody here knows what has happened but there are only a few who dare to tell what they have seen.”

 

II. Protests in the neighborhood of Moali Abad​

One of the most poignant videos of the Shiraz protests is a 20-second glimpse of the Moali Abad neighborhood. “Shiraz,” the video narration says. “Police shooting at people. They are shooting at people from Moali Abad’s police station.” The narration then turns from the excited tones of somebody who is reporting the protests to a broken and desperate outcry as he sees a man who has been shot dead and is lying on the pavement.

The Moali Abad neighborhood of Shiraz: A protester is shot dead

Protests in Moali Abadi started on Saturday, November 16. People blocked the street, but the protests started peacefully and continued peacefully until around noon, when it turned violent as the police attacked protesters — like elsewhere in Shiraz.

 

The Moali Abad Neighborhood of Shiraz: After shots are fired, protesters throw stones at the police station

Mehdi Nekooei, 23, had been chanting slogans alongside other protesters near Goldasht police station in Moali Abad. The video recorded before he was shot dead shows him clapping and chanting slogans including “Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon; my life for Iran.”

 

Moali Abad: Mehdi Nekooei, chanting with the crowd, before he was shot dead

Mehdi Nekooei’s death enraged people, and police officers took shelter inside the station once the crowd began throwing stones at them.

Moali Abad: Cars in front of the police stations are set on fire. “It is 3:10...Just now they set the station on fire”

 

Moali Abad: Cars burning outside the police station, recorded from a tall building

 

Moali Abad: Security forces shoot at people who were running toward the police station

Crowds were in the streets into the night, almost until the morning of Sunday, November 17. Control of the boulevard or parts of it repeatedly changed hands between the protesters and the security forces.

“There is a pastry shop next to Bank Melli and Bank Maskan, " says a woman calling herself Raheleh. "When one of the young men wanted to remove a flowerpot next to this shop, another man told him that the pot did not belong to the bank and they put it back.” Protesters went into the banks, dragged out the desks, the chairs and the computers into the street and burned them. She says anti-riot police were standing nearby, but that, at that time, they did not intervene and simply watched.

“When I got back home at midnight I noticed that around 10 municipal workers were sitting there at the ready,” she says. “They said that the municipality had told them to clean up the boulevard after the protests were over. By Sunday morning the streets were clean, although when the protests started again things returned to the way they were the previous night.”

Moali Abad protests. People chant anti-government slogans: “Death to this demagogue government!”

Another woman, Marjan, says that when she arrived at the boulevard from the bridge she saw that the windows of Dastghaib Communication Center had been broken and a bank kiosk had been set on fire. According to her, the protests intensified after around 2pm. “There was a lot of smoke where Baharan Street crosses the boulevard. When I got there I saw that they had brought out the equipment from inside the bank and had set it on fire in the street. Nothing was left intact: no bank, no ATM, no billboard. A crowd of perhaps 40 people were busy destroying stuff.”

Marjan says no police arrived at that location until 8pm. She says it appeared as though officials did not want to stop the destruction. “The crowd of 40 or 50 had covered their faces out of the fear that they would be identified, because up in one building there were people taking pictures and videos, and they did not look like ordinary people.”

The same crowd went to the office of the Social Security Organization under Ehsan Bridge, according to Marjan. Again, they brought everything outside and set it on fire. 

On Monday “the anti-riot police arrived in dark-colored cars and police were stationed every step of the way along Moali Abad. I was on my way home when I saw that the Ansar Bank building at the beginning of the boulevard had been set on fire, and the floors above it, where there were doctors’ and commercial offices, had been burned as well. But not even one private shop around it was damaged.”

A woman named Samaneh says that after she returned home, somebody in the housing complex started shouting, “Death to Khamenei!” and then people came out on to the street. “For the first half an hour people were chanting, but there was no sign of anti-riot police. Little by little, however, the anti-riot police arrived ... They just sat on their motorcycles and watched people who were shouting slogans against the regime, against Khamenei and against the government. Then they attacked. They started beating people with batons and people escaped into alleyways or where there was little traffic.”

Samaneh says that there were several attacks: “Then the shooting with pellet bullets started. They did not aim, but just shot randomly. They captured a number of people. I noticed an anti-riot policeman who did not want to attack people and tried to shoo people away without attracting the attention of his colleagues.”

Samaneh says anti-riot police shouted out “Hossein” and “Heydar” — the names of Shia saints —  before they let loose a barrage of bullets: “The shots were pellet bullets but in Valfajr township they used military caliber bullets and wounded a number of people. Then they would force the wounded and the detainees to pay them the cost of the bullets.”

According to Samaneh, “They were all ordinary people, adolescents, youngsters and older people, even those who must remember the 1979 revolution.”

At 2am on Monday, November 18, anti-riot forces taunted and terrorized people: “It was a disgusting scene. They behaved like enemies who have occupied your land.”

 

Central Shiraz: Two Days of Demonstrations and Clashes

“They brought in more than 300 people with gunshot wounds ...They fenced off a ward and closed all its doors. They are going to transfer all the wounded to prison after treatment.” This is how one medical staff member at Namazi Hospital in Shiraz described the scene there on Saturday, November 16 and Sunday, November 17, 2019.

Protests started on Saturday morning at Shiraz Industrial Park. Reports said that security forces in Shiraz had concentrated on Setad Square and Namazi Street going toward the university. A woman using the alias Mina says the security forces seemed prepared for the possibility of protests in the area and the university remained calm.

Then protests and clashes broke out starting from the beginning of Hedayat Street going toward Moshir Fatemi Street and reached Paramount Crossroad and Zeitoon Shopping Center. At Paramount Crossroad, in front of the gas station opposite the shopping center, people sat on the street. A group of young shopkeepers and street vendors started the protests and gradually others joined them. Shouts of “Death to the dictator!” could be heard, but not everyone in the crowd was joining in.

“While I was there most of the chants that I heard were ‘Death to the dictator!’ and ‘Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon; my life for Iran,’” says Mina. “I must point out that neither here nor anywhere else on Saturday and Sunday did I hear slogans in support of the monarchy. This was unlike the 2017-2018 protests when you could hear many monarchist slogans.”

The streets leading to Saadi Cinema were closed from Saturday at noon. Mina says that close to 50 people were sitting around a fire and chanting “Death to the dictator!” Among them, she said, were “a considerable number of women and most of the protesters were poor and working class. Most of them were between 20 to 30 years old. Of the men, very few were middle-aged but middle-aged and older women were there as well.”

According to Mina, the first thing protesters did was break the surveillance camera: “It was a very young man who did this and the people encouraged him ...After a while one protester said, ‘let’s go toward the banks.’”

An eyewitness going by the name of Niusha says on the morning of Saturday, November 16, people had turned off their cars along the beltway to the industrial park and had blocked the road. “At that time their chants were only about the high price of gas,” she says. “Both men and women were protesting, but women were more active. They were telling the anti-riot police, ‘you are part of the people and you must not beat them.’ The distance between the people and the anti-riot police was very narrow, perhaps a meter.”

That same evening she says two banks, Keshavarzi and Mellat, were on fire near Basij Circle. There was no sign of firefighters. On Paramount Crossroad anti-riot police protected a large gas station and were not attacking people. “Some were saying that the agents themselves were responsible for setting banks on fire so that they would have an excuse for attacking people,” Niusha says.

“They broke the windows of all the banks on Nader Street, including Maskan Bank, whicht took a long time to break into because it was not easy to break its door,” Niusha says. “They brought everything out into the street and set it on fire.”

According to Niusha, whenever the anti-riot police attacked the people, plainclothes agents armed with hunting guns loaded with pellet bullets followed them. “Little by little there were more anti-riot police and more teargas. At one of the intersections of 30-Meter Street, three private sedans drove through three streets and after about 100 meters they stopped the cars lengthwise across the street. Plainclothes agents got out from each sedan, each carrying a hunting rifle, and started shooting with pellet bullets. In other words, they bottled the people at the intersection and shot at them.”

Mina says people had come from the direction of Afif Abad and Saadi Cinema, blocking the intersection and setting things on fire: “Some of the young protesters had broken surveillance cameras and traffic lights. Some entered the banks and broke windows when others encouraged them. They brought equipment from the bank into the street and threw them into the fire. They were not doing it in anger but saw it as a victory. People were rejoicing.”

On Sunday, the internet was blocked and the city was practically shut down and deserted, apart from a huge police presence. “It was full of police toward the university, toward Setad where the governor’s office is located and even toward Roudaki. There were also many Basijis on motorcycles, carrying shields and riding motorcycles that were different from those of the police. They were riding in tandem and one of them must have been armed.”

On Sunday on top of the Alef Building — the Golestan Cineplex with a few floors of commercial space above it — where Moali Boulevard starts, a number of people with binoculars surveyed what was going on below.

Mina says on Sunday morning, protesters controlled the Tachara underpass, by which satellite towns connect to Shiraz city itself. On the Moali Abad side, the Basijis were in control. “There were perhaps about 100 two-seater motorcycles. They had shields and arms and they had covered their faces and were very young. Since morning there had been clashes between these Basijis and the people. People had taken shelter in a dead-end alley near a big residential complex and the Basijis were not allowing anybody to leave the alley.”

People were trying to go toward Moali Abad but the Basijis were blocking them. “For whatever reason, the Basijis wanted to clear the entrance and the moment they did, a number of plainclothes agents — who until then seemed to be just spectators — stepped forward and blocked the alley.”

The clashes and the standoff lasted like this for a few hours. 

“We heard that a lot was happening in Moali Abad and people wanted to get there,” she says. “Police were waiting at the bend of that road to crush people and started throwing teargas at them. They wanted to exhaust people and force them to go home.”

The clashes here and on Moali Abad overpass lasted for an hour on a stretch perhaps no longer than 200 meters. “The residents of Dinakan had joined the protesters,” Mina said. “They had come out in slippers and the women were wearing floral chadors. Further away from Moali Abad Bridge, people were controlling the road and no police were there.”

Around 8pm on Sunday somebody shouted that the police were coming and the people dispersed. It was raining and it was cold. “Earlier people had been sitting around fires to warm themselves,” Mina said. “It was like a collective festival. That night they set four banks on fire.”

Mina says on Monday it was raining hard and, as far as she knows, there were either no clashes in Shiraz or the clashes were so limited that they were not reported. On Tuesday, the city was back to normal.

 

Golestan Township: They set fire to the seminary and pictures of Khomeini and Khamenei

“At sunset on Saturday, November 16, protesters were throwing stones at a Basij base in Golestan township and in front of the base, they burned a car that belonged to a Basiji,” said another eyewitness going by the name Sahand. Golestan township is located at the westernmost part of Shiraz. At the entrance to the township is a large shopping center and, for this reason, many banks have branches in the square where the town starts and on the main boulevard that continues on to apartment houses at the town’s highest point.

At 5pm on Saturday a thick cloud of smoke rose from one of the town’s squares. Smoke could be seen coming from Bank Shahr. According to another resident, Parinaz, a large crowd had gathered around the square: “A woman who had covered her face was standing and chanting slogans such as ‘Death to Khamenei’ and ‘Death to the Islamic Republic’ and the crowd responded.

Golestan township, sundown, Saturday, November 16. People chant “Death to the dictator!”

Then, said Parinaz, one person in the crowd started shouting, “Let’s go to the seminary on Sangi Boulevard. Let’s kick the butt of the mullahs.” The crowd set out for the seminary and 10 minutes later reached the Ambassadors of Guidance Seminary. “Within 20 minutes the seminary was on fire. A few people entered the seminary, dragged out whatever they could and set it on fire, including pictures of Khomeini and Khamenei. When the crowd saw the pictures that were to be burned they cheered. Nobody was inside the school except the caretaker and nobody bothered him.”

In an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency, Ostovar Meymandi, the head of Fars province’s seminaries, confirmed Parinaz’s account. He said the seminary of the Ambassadors of Guidance was completely consumed by a fire that was set at around 5pm. Also destroyed were all the students’ records, copying machines and other equipment.

According to Parinaz, at around 6pm, only half an hour after the seminary was set on fire, a large number of security forces armed with guns and teargas grenades entered the town. “They drove around the township a few times but left without engaging in any clashes,” Parinaz said. “Then the rain started and people dispersed.”

 

Nationwide protest, Golestan township near Shiraz. People chant anti-government slogans

According to Parinaz, people gathered again at the same square from 9pm and started chanting. Bank Maskan was the only bank that was not set on fire because the upper floors were residential apartments, but inside, the bank was destroyed. “Also people did not attack the Basij base on Sangi Boulevard because it was near a residential complex and they said that the noise and the possibility of shooting would terrify the neighbors,” Parinaz says.

In an interview with IranWire, a teacher claimed that the people were not responsible for the destruction in Golestan township. “The floor above Bank Resalat in our area was a residential apartment,” said the teacher. “People came toward the bank but did no damage. They said that they would not destroy people’s homes. Less than 10 minutes later the Basijis and the Revolutionary Guards arrived and laid siege to people. The security agents themselves set fire to the bank with the residential apartment above it. They wanted to put the blame on the people and portray them as rioters.”

 

Gouyom Township: Random Shots Fired at People

A resident of Gouyom township in Shiraz going by the name Javad said the world needed to know only one thing to understand why the people in the township have the right to hate the government and to find any opportunity to protest. “Unemployment, poverty and political repression aside, Gouyom township has been legally a borough of the city of Shiraz for the last seven years but still does not have a gas distribution system, whereas Shiraz has had one for more than 50 years.”

According to Javad, this hate is directed at the seminaries as well as the government. Imam Hasan Seminary in Gouyom was one of at least four seminaries in Fars province that were set on fire during the protests. It is not yet known whether the protesters were responsible for these acts of arson or whether it was the work of security forces agents who wanted to justify their brutal crackdown on the protests.

Javad says that on Sunday, after Gouyom’s seminary was set on fire, the protesters came under gunfire from the roof of the Basij base in another part of the town. One of the casualties was Amir Alvandi, who was shot in his chest. “They first took him to the Abu Ali Sina Clinic in Gouyom near Ardakan Highway. Amir had lost a lot of blood and they could not do anything for him. So they took him to the Organ Transplants Hospital in Sadra, which is not very far from Gouyom, but Amir had died before reaching the hospital.”

According to Javad, on Monday night the security forces clamped down on Gouyom. More than 20 motorcycles and an anti-riot police vehicle immediately started firing shots in the air and batting their shields to terrorize people. “Then they started shooting randomly with pellet bullets. Many were injured, including a person by the name of Hasan Sadeghi who was shot in his eyes with pellets. These forces remained in the township until around 2am. Their commander announced with a loudspeaker that if anybody left his home he would be shot without warning.”

 

Golshan Township (Koshan): People controlled the township for four days

Very little is known about the protests in Golshan township. The town had previously been a poor village called Koshan, but was renamed after it was incorporated into the greater Shiraz metropolitan area.

According to a man using the alias Amir Salar who lives in Isar, near Golshan, from Saturday, November 16 to Wednesday, November 20, the township was controlled by the people. Security forces and the police were kept out because people had piled up garbage and tires at the entrance to every street and alley. “Until Monday afternoon I saw no anti-riot police around Koshan. Around noon on Monday about 20 motorcycles, each with two riders, and an anti-riot vehicle approached Koshan from the direction of Mehdieh township and Valfajr but they retreated when the protesters showered them with stones. On Monday night shots were heard but I do not know whether anybody was killed or not.”

The entire beltway was blocked by cement blocks ripped from the curb, decayed bodies of scrapped cars and cut-down tree trunks, Amir Salar said. Every day from 2am municipality workers started clearing the beltway, but at noon protesters would begin blocking it again.

Protests in Golshan township (Koshan): One protester is killed and protesters chant “Death to the dictator!”

 

IranWire has used aliases to protect the identities of the eyewitnesses. 

 

Related Coverage:

Iran Arrests Mourners and Invades Cemeteries to Prevent New Round of Protests, 27 December 2019

Is Reuters a Victim of Khamenei and the Guards' Disinformation Campaign?, 25 December 2019

Special Report: Iran’s leader ordered crackdown on unrest: "Do whatever it takes to end it", 23 December 2019

Decoding Iran's Politics: The November 2019 Fact Sheet, 19 December 2019

148 Killed in Mahshahr During November Protests, 17 December 2019

comments

Features

IranWire Investigation: Shiraz Protests — Agents Shot and Killed Demonstrators

December 30, 2019
Shahed Alavi
24 min read
IranWire Investigation: Shiraz Protests — Agents Shot and Killed Demonstrators