Yaghoub Fazeli, Al Arabiya English
Videos of Iranian security forces dispersing protesters across the country using live ammunition, water cannons and tear gas have been widely circulated on social media, causing the death toll since protests erupted on Friday due to gas hikes to reach at least 29, according to media reports.
Police also arrested 40 people during protests in Iran’s Yazd city on Sunday, ISNA news agency reported.
Iran imposed petrol rationing and raised pump prices by at least 50 percent on Friday, saying the move was aimed at helping citizens in need with cash handouts. Anti-government protests have erupted in over 53 Iranian cities since the decision was announced.
As Iran struggles to overcome US sanctions that have severely weakened the country’s economy, the protests serve as a renewed pressure on the Iranian government following the collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Although the protests began as largely peaceful, violence quickly ensued when security forces began to intervene to disperse large gatherings in several cities, with online videos showing police officers firing tear gas at protesters and protesters setting fires to tyres, as well as blocking roads.
While representing a political risk for President Hassan Rouhani ahead of February parliamentary elections, they also show widespread anger among Iran’s 80 million people who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the collapse of the national currency.
In Iran’s Kurdish cities, security forces used live ammunition against protesters, reportedly killing 11 people, and wounded 79 others in several cities in Kurdistan on Saturday, according to a Kurdish human rights organization.
In the rich-oil southwestern province of Khuzestan, five citizens have been killed. Two were killed in the city of Khorramshahr (Muhammara), including a 12-year-old boy who has been identified as Ali Ghazlawi, and three others were killed in Behbahan.
Iranian protesters in Shiraz were also targeted by live gunfire and snipers, resulting in the death of at least two protesters, according to videos on social media, on the second day of widespread protests across Iran following a government decision to ration and hike the price of petrol.
Prominent Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad posted a video on Twitter on Saturday that she says was sent to her by an eyewitness. In the video, a man is heard saying “the police are shooting the people … they shot the people with live gunfire,” as he approaches another man down on the ground, covered in blood.
“Some [were] shot by snipers in the head by the security forces,” wrote Alinejad.
Iran imposed petrol rationing and raised pump prices by at least 50 percent on Friday, saying the move was aimed at helping citizens in need with cash handouts.
Protests have erupted in at least 53 cities across Iran since the decision was announced.
Security forces shot at protesters in Karaj, killing at least one protestor, another video showed. A group of men were seen carrying another man who appears to have been shot. A woman is heard saying “they killed him,” followed by men chanting “Death to Khamenei.”
In the capital Tehran, protesters attacked and set fire to a Basij base, another video circulated on social media showed. The Basij force is a paramilitary arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Despite the rising death toll and violence, many of Iran’s government officials largely dismissed the protests as an act of sabotage masterminded by foreign actors.
The interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli claimed on Saturday that “security forces have so far shown restraint and have tolerated the protests,” and warned that security forces will act to restore calm if the protesters “damaged public properties.”
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Sunday also voiced his support for the hike in gas prices, stating that protesters setting fire to public property are “bandits” backed by Iran’s enemies and those supporting the counter-revolution.
Ahwaz’s police chief Mosen Dalvand warned that “citizens who turn off their engines [on the road] will be dealt with.” His remarks came after videos on social media showed protesters in Ahwaz urging drivers to block traffic, by chanting “Honorable Ahwazis, turn off your engines!”
On Sunday, Iran’s prosecutor-general cleric Mohammad Jafar Montazeri accused the protesters of having “foreign roots,” and warned that they will be “dealt with seriously.”