Tehran, Iran – Iranian authorities said a policeman was shot dead by “agitators” in Iran’s Khuzestan province, where six nights of protests against water shortages turned deadly.
State media reported that another Bandar Mahshahr policeman was injured after being shot in the leg on Tuesday evening, as videos and reports from the oil-rich southwestern province indicated the violence had not ceased.
Authorities have so far confirmed that two civilians, Ghasem Khozeiri, 18, and Mostafa Naimawi, 30, were shot on Friday, but they say the young men were not protesters and were murdered by ” opportunists and rioters ”.
It is feared that more protesters have died, but authorities have yet to confirm more deaths. They also did not disclose how many civilians were arrested.
Sporadic Internet slowdowns or blackouts have been reported across the province for several days. Despite internet restrictions, numerous videos have been shown in several counties in Khuzestan over the past week, in which gunshots can be heard and tear gas is used.
In some videos, protesters can be seen angry with security forces wielding black-clad batons, riding motorcycles in large numbers.
Video allegedly from Tuesday night showed a tank, erected as a monument to the grueling eight-year war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, set on fire as tires were set on fire to close roads.
Videos could not be independently verified.
Oil-rich Khuzestan, parts of which were temporarily seized by Iraqi Saddam Hussein after invading Iran with Western backing, has faced water problems for decades. Its large Sunni Arab population has long complained of being marginalized in a predominantly Shiite Iran.
This year, however, has been particularly difficult for the province – and the entire country as a result of it – with extremely hot temperatures and droughts that have resulted in widespread power outages and water shortages.
Officials admit the province has been hit hard, but say separatist groups are to blame for the violence and accuse foreign media of trying to take advantage of the situation to oppose the theocratic establishment.
The government of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani said it had allocated new funds to improve the situation while the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said they were deploying tankers to the thirsty region.
The province also saw some of the biggest protests in the 2019 nationwide protests that formed in the wake of the abrupt tripling in oil prices. Human rights organizations say hundreds of people have been killed in the protests, with internet access almost completely cut off across the country for nearly a week.
Over the past week, social media and mainstream media have been filled with stories, news and reactions to the situation in Khuzestan.
Farsi hashtags such as #KhuzestanIsThirsty and #KhuzestanHasNoWater have been widely used to draw attention to the crisis and the protests which received little coverage in international media.
Some civilians have tried to raise funds to buy water bottles and tankers to send to Khuzestan, but others have pointed out that such measures minimize the long-term problems faced by residents of the province who need a lasting solution after years of mismanagement and neglect. following the war.
“Khuzestan’s problem stems from illegal plans to transfer water from forks of rivers and theft of water from river sources by water mafias,” tweeted Fereshteh Tabanian, an Ahvaz-based lawyer. .
Residents of Khuzestan pointed out on social media that the province never really had clean tap water and had to buy their water or take it from rivers, many of which have also dried up.
The same dirty tap water is now shut off for many citizens.
Power outages also worsen the situation, as many use electric pumps to deliver water inside their homes.
On Tuesday, a group of activists and human rights defenders, including Narges Mohammadi, who was released from prison in October 2020 after serving eight and a half years, demonstrated outside the Interior Ministry in the capital, Tehran, for express its support to the population. from Khuzestan.
Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, said the activist and several others were arrested. He later said they were released in the early hours of Wednesday.
Two former presidents – reformist Mohammad Khatami and hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – have also criticized the authorities’ reaction to the protests.
“No political, security, military or law enforcement organization has the right to confront people’s protests with violence, weapons or bullets under the pretext of countering chaos,” Khatami said.