Protests against the government spread to at least six provinces in Iran on Friday, following several days of sporadic unrest sparked by rising food prices, according to witnesses and videos posted on social media.
The protests came after the government announced a plan on Monday to adjust prices for some basic food items by cutting their subsidies. The price of some foods has increased by over 300%.
Prices spiked two weeks ago after the government cut subsidies for eggs, chicken, dairy products and cooking oil. An increase in the price of bread earlier in the month was caused by government adjustments to wheat prices but is also linked to the worldwide shortage of the commodity because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, economists say.
Hundreds of people have protested against high prices in Iran’s second largest city, shouting slogans denouncing President Raisi and even the country’s highest authority and supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Scores of protesters hit the streets on Friday in southern Iran city to protest against the sudden price rise of essential food items that saw a massive 300 per cent jump.
Violent response from authorities
At least 22 “agitators” were arrested from two southern provinces of the city. State-run IRNA news agency reported that 15 people were arrested overnight in the southwestern city of Dezful in Khuzestan province and seven others from Yasuj city in Kohgiluyeh-Boyerahmad Province.
The report also said that 200 people had gathered in another city in Khuzestan province — Andimeshk — where one firefighter was injured after demonstrators threw stones at police and firefighters.
Global rights watch said that Iranian authorities have arrested several prominent activists on baseless accusations amid labor union strikes and ongoing protests against rising prices, since May 6, 2022, in dozens of small towns.
Those arrested include a prominent sociologist and four labor rights defenders. Furthermore, the detained activists have accused of having contact with suspicious foreign actors, without providing any evidence of an alleged wrongdoing.
Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch said ““The arrests of prominent members of civil society in Iran on baseless accusations of malicious foreign interference is another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements in the country.”
Fears of excessive force use
Advocacy group NetBlocks.org has earlier warned that Internet disruptions were reported across the country as the government braced for possible unrest.
Executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), Mahdi Ghaemi warned that internet outages came prior to a deadly use of force and violence.
CHRI calls on UN officials and human rights organizations to pressure the Islamic Republic to stop suppressing peaceful protesters, in violation of their right to peaceful protest.
On the other hand, Human Rights Watch in its 2022 report confirmed that over the past three years, security forces in Iran have responded to widespread protests stemming largely from economic rights issues with excessive and unlawful force, including lethal force, and arrested thousands of protesters while using prosecution and imprisonment as the main tool to silence the voices of prominent dissidents and human rights defenders. Authorities have shown no willingness to investigate serious human rights violations committed under their control, the report said.
Dire economic situation triggered protests
Though Iran produces half of its wheat requirements, it relies on Russia for another half. It also imports half of its cooking oil from Ukraine, where fighting has kept many farmers from the fields.
Apart from that, drought is already wreaking havoc on Iran’s economy, which is already batted with Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear deal.
Around 30 per cent of Iranian households are below the poverty line, according to Iran’s Statistics Center. In addition, Smuggling of Iran’s highly subsidized bread into neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan has also spiked as hunger spreads across the region.