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‘It looks like a war zone’: Our Observers report from inside Iran’s protests

The sudden announcement by Iran’s government on November 15 of gasoline (petrol) price hikes of as much as 300 percent has led to days of protests across the country – and violent repression by its security services. While no official tolls have been announced, reports suggest dozens of protesters have been killed and hundreds of buildings been burned: banks, gas stations, police stations and other governmental buildings. Our Observers were able to send information before a near-complete ban on foreign internet traffic was put in place on November 17.

The Observers team has registered reports of demonstrations and clashes in at least 40 towns and cities, including the capital Tehran, as well as Shiraz, Isfahan, Qazvin, Tabriz and other cities. Our Observers have described what they saw in their cities as a “war zone” or “no different from Aleppo”.

Amateur video shows a demonstration in Shiraz, November 16, 2019.

Videos shared via social media before November 17 – especially the messaging app Telegram – show Iran’s security forces firing on protesters. Other videos show bodies on the streets and burned governmental buildings. In cities including Javanroud, Marivan and Kermanshah, locals reported that hospitals had no more space for the injured.

Amateur video shows a gas station burning in Karaj, November 16, 2019.

This amateur video shows the office of the Friday prayer imam in Sadra on fire.


‘Our entire town is on fire’

“Sima” is one of our Observers in the southern suburbs of Tehran. She managed to talk to me on November 17 before all the internet and phone lines in the town were cut.

“It looks like a war zone. Our entire town is on fire. All the banks have been burned. People are angry because the police have reacted with unimaginable violence. I witnessed the 2009 Green Movement in Tehran, but the repression then was nothing compared with what we are seeing now.

I saw at least 10 dead bodies on the streets of our neighborhood. I knew some of the people who were killed. One of them was a carpenter from our street. He wasn’t even participating in the protests. He was just standing in front of his store when he was hit by a bullet and killed.

The internet is down so we have no way of sharing what’s happening here with the outside world. They are killing anyone they see in the streets. People are fighting back however they can: burning trashcans, banks, ATMs – anything that symbolizes the government.”

A poster showing Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was burned in Isfahan on November 16, 2019.

According to our Observers in Iran, the government blocked access to the global internet, replacing it with an internal “intranet” giving access only to Iranian sites and apps like “Tap30”, the Iranian version of Uber. Connection to sites outside Iran was impossible.

A Melli bank office was set on fire in Behbahan on November 16, 2019.

Niki Mahjoub is an Iranian journalist working at Iran International, a Persian-language TV channel broadcasting from London. Mahjoub has been closely following the recent protests in Iran, posting photographs and details of some of the people killed.

“We’ve never seen such widespread protests in the Islamic Republic. Despite the communications outages, we have documented more than 60 deaths around the country.

The security situation varies from city to city, but the situation in the western part of the country is the worst: oil-rich cities like Abadan, Omidieh, Asaluyeh, and Mahshahr are under curfew.”

So far, the Iranian government has not announced overall figures for deaths or injuries in the protests. Government spokesman Ali Rabiei on Monday said, “No one has been injured in the streets. The only people who have been injured were attacking military bases.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps on Monday said that more than 1,000 people had been arrested nationwide, and warned that its troops would respond “with determination” to any threat to national security.

This amateur video shows a demonstration in Isfahan.


First published here on France24.

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