Officials Confirm One Death After Protests Erupt in Iran After Sudden Fuel Price Hike
Numerous Unconfirmed Reports of Casualties, Injured After Protests Hit 50 Cities
Protests that began in several Iranian cities on November 15, 2019, after the government announced gasoline price hikes were met with violent force by local police and security forces.
State officials had confirmed one death as of November 17, but 10 unconfirmed casualties were reported on social media networks.
On November 16, the government blocked internet access in most of the country under an order issued by the Supreme National Security Council.
“Iran is now in the midst of a near-total national internet shutdown; real-time network data show connectivity at 7% of ordinary levels after twelve hours of progressive network disconnections as public protests continue,” reported the internet-access-monitoring NetBlocks organization.
The protests erupted November 15 after the government announced that the price of rationed gasoline would be increased by 50 percent to a minimum of 15,000 rials ($0.13) per liter up to 60 liters, with each additional liter costing 30,000 rials.
The following day, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, the head of the Plan and Budget Organization, said the price increase would boost government revenues by 300 trillion rials ($2.55 billion) annually, allowing it to financially support 60 million Iranians with monthly payments ranging from 550,000 rials ($4.68) for couples to slightly more than two million rials ($17.46) for families of five members or more.
President Hassan Rouhani’s government had previously proposed fuel prices hikes to be included in the budget for the Iranian year 1397 (March 2018-March 2019) but had been turned down by Parliament.
Now Parliament is set to debate the issue again as some lawmakers submitted an urgent bill on November 17 to nullify the price increases until the government formally presents its plan to the legislature for ratification, announced Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reformist member of Parliament from Tehran.
“The sudden increase in gasoline prices was a wrong decision,” Sadeghi tweeted on November 16. “Given the current difficult economic conditions, people’s protests were to be expected. We must recognize the people’s right to assemble and protest, and the security forces and police should refrain from any violent confrontation with protesters.”
In addition to helping the government pay its bills amid tight U.S. sanctions that have crippled oil export revenues and blocked the country’s access to the international banking system, Iranian officials argued that the fuel price hikes would help prevent cheap Iranian gasoline from being smuggled to neighboring countries and reduce pollution in major cities.
But after the protests began, officials from across the political spectrum criticized the hurried announcement.
“The sudden announcement of revising the price of gasoline at midnight on Thursday, without any explanation, is a momentous mistake in public relations,” said a commentary published November 16 by the Tasnim News Agency, which often echoes the views of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
In remarks aired November 17 on state-controlled TV, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei vilified the protesters.
“Setting a bank on fire is not an act done by the people. This is what thugs do,” Khamenei said
State Security Forces Respond With Violent Force
On November 15, posts on social media networks and reports by Iranian news agencies indicated that protests had broken out in more than 50 cities throughout Iran including Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Qazvin, Kermanshah, Oroumiyeh, Marivan, Sanandaj, Saveh, Behbahan, and Sirjan.
People chanted various slogans including “gasoline got more expensive, the poor got poorer,” “clerics should go to hell,” “shame on dictators,” “our enemy is here, not in the U.S.” and “bless Reza Shah’s soul,” referring to the monarchy that was ousted after Iran’s 1979 revolution.
In Sirjan, Kerman Province, Governor Mohammad Mahmoudabadi confirmed the death of one protester, identified as Javad Nazari, and several other casualties as a result of bullets fired by security forces on November 16.
“Unfortunately, some people took advantage of peaceful gatherings and attacked and damaged public properties and gas stations and some tried to set fire to main fuel oil tanks, but they retreated when the security forces, police, Revolutionary Guards and basic forces intervened,” Mahmoudabadi said.
As of November 17, unconfirmed reports on social media said up to 10 protesters had been killed, with numerous others injured. BBC Persian reported one protester had been killed in the city of Behbahan, Khuzestan Province, and another in Marivan, Kurdistan Province.
“A human being has been killed for protesting dire and deplorable living conditions in the country,” tweeted former political prisoner Hossein Ronaghi. “He, like all Iranians, was fed up from so much corruption, plunder, lack of accountability, oppression, and censorship. Protest was his right. The response to his protest wasn’t and shouldn’t be bullets and batons.”
On November 16, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri accused foreign forces of using the internet to incite the protests and warned that demonstrators would be “firmly dealt with.”
Presidential adviser Hessamoddin Ashena tweeted, “Domestic and foreign opportunists have made another strategic mistake. Iran is not Iraq or Lebanon. The U.S. embassy has been shut down for many years here. We Iranians will not allow mercenary media outlets to determine our fate…”
In the city of Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf coast, the local security council sent text messages to people on their phones warning of “consequences” if crowds refused to “disband as soon as possible.”
Similar text messages were sent throughout Kerman and Khuzestan provinces.
Read this article in Persian.