The United States, along with multiple international human rights monitors, has decried the use of excessive force by authorities against peaceful protesters in Iran’s Khuzestan province.
In mid-July, demonstrators took to the streets in the oil-rich province, home to many of Iran’s Ahwaz Arab minority population. Amidst a prolonged drought, they were protesting a severe water shortage due to the diversion of water to neighboring provinces, oil drilling that disrupted the water supply, and mismanagement by government authorities.
According to multiple reports, the demonstrators were met with brutal force. Amnesty International said, “Video footage…coupled with consistent accounts from the ground, indicate security forces used deadly automatic weapons, shotguns with inherently indiscriminate ammunition, and tear gas to disperse protesters.” At least eight deaths were reported in different cities, as were dozens of arrests. The actual numbers remain unknown and may be much higher.
Citing “disturbing reports” that security forces had fired on demonstrators, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters. “We support the rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and express themselves, without fear of violence and detention by security forces. We are also monitoring reports of internet slowdowns in the region,” he said.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on the Iranian government to address the water crisis instead of reacting to protesters with violence. “Shooting and arresting people will simply add to their anger and desperation,” she said.
After the Iranian authorities’ violent attempts to suppress the people in Khuzestan, protests spread to other areas in Iran, including the cities of Tehran, Tabriz, and Karaj, and chants of “We don’t want the Islamic Republic!” and “Death to the Dictator!” were reported.
In a statement, U.S. Spokesperson Price noted that while the protests in Iran may have started with a water shortage, the Iranian people “are now putting a spotlight not only on their unmet needs, but also their unfulfilled aspirations for respect for human rights – rights to which individuals the world over are entitled.”
“We urge the Iranian government to allow its citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression and to freely access information, including via the internet.”