For the first time in 18 months, a wave of anti-government protests that began in Iran’s southwest 11 days ago has moved to the capital, Tehran, where people marched and chanted slogans against their Islamist rulers.
Chanting against Khamenei
On social media, videos from Monday’s demonstration showed dozens of Iranians marching on Tehran’s Jomhuri Islami Avenue, or “Islamic Republic Avenue.”
They were chanting harsh slogans against Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Islamist ruling system over which he presides.
Tehran sees the biggest demonstration
Several days of anti-government protests erupted in Tehran when Iranian security forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet shortly after it took off from the Iranian capital on January 8, 2020.
All 176 individuals on board died in the crash, the majority of whom were Iranians and Iranian Canadians going to Kyiv on their way to Canada.
The US killed Qassem Soleimani
Iranian officials confirmed that their forces shot down the Ukraine International airliner after three days of blaming the tragedy on mechanical difficulties with the plane.
They said that the jet was mistaken for an enemy threat hours after missiles were fired at an Iraqi site that housed US troops.
In response to a US bombing that killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad five days prior, Iran targeted US troops, injuring dozens.
Tehran demonstration, “most significant outpouring”
Analyst Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told VOA Persian that Monday’s demonstration in Tehran was the “most significant outpouring” of anti-government activists in the Iranian capital since early 2020.
Taleblu stated, “Tehran citizens stand in solidarity with protesters who bravely took to the streets in southwest Iran’s Khuzestan province over a week ago over a lack of access to water.” “Shows of unity like these are precisely what the regime fears most, as it relies on divide and conquers to survive.”
Protest extended across Iran
On July 15, nightly public protests protesting water shortages began in drought-stricken Khuzestan and extended to numerous other Iranian provinces in the following days, with protestors chanting more critical slogans of the administration.
Iranian security forces appeared to be shooting gunshots and tear gas to clear the streets, according to social media videos that VOA could not verify.
Amnesty International statement
Last Friday, Amnesty International, a London-based human rights organization, stated that video footage and “consistent accounts” from Iranian sources led it to believe that security forces had murdered at least eight protestors and bystanders in seven cities, including a teenage boy.
Iran was accused of using “illegal force, including live ammunition and birdshot, to suppress mostly peaceful protests,” according to the report.
Years of mismanagement
On the same day, Khamenei issued a statement on his official website expressing sympathy for the people of Khuzestan who are without water but cautioned them from playing into the hands of Iran’s enemies.
Experts attribute Iran’s drought not only to the drought in recent months but also to years of mismanagement of water resources by the Iranian government.
Iran’s street protests, according to Taleblu, have been gradually gaining momentum, scale, and scope.
Biden administration cannot ignore this cycle of protest
“If history repeats itself, Tehran is likely to use lethal force against protesters once more…The Biden administration cannot ignore this cycle of protest and repression,” he warned.
When asked by VOA Persian whether the Biden administration believes Iran’s response to the protests has been harsh, State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter reiterated a statement made several times since the unrest began, saying that the US was monitoring reports of protests and fatalities and that Iranians should be free to assemble and express themselves without fear of retaliation.