Iran makes arrests over last week's anti-government protests

Police did not specify how many people were arrested in Behbahan city where the demonstrations took place.

    Iranians protesting over alleged economic hardships on the streets of Behbahan city in Iran [File: Reuters]
    Iranians protesting over alleged economic hardships on the streets of Behbahan city in Iran [File: Reuters]

    Iranian police say they have arrested a number of people behind protests that broke out last week in the southwest of the country, state news agency IRNA reported on Monday.

    "All the perpetrators of an illegal and norm-breaking gathering in Behbahan [city] were identified and arrested," Khuzestan province's police chief, Heydar Abbas Zadeh, was quoted as saying.

    He did not specify how many people had been detained.

    The protests occurred on Thursday "with a limited number of Behbahan residents gathering and shouting norm-breaking chants," he said, a term used by Iranian authorities to refer to anti-government slogans.

    One video - verified by the AP news agency - shows a crowd of dozens of people in a square in Behbahan, shouting: "An Iranian will die, but will never accept humiliation."

    Videos posted on social media from inside Iran on Thursday showed protesters chanting, "Fear not, fear not, we are in this together!" Some chanted slogans against top officials.

    The videos also showed a heavy presence of security forces in several cities following the protests.

    At the time, Behbahan police said the crowd did not heed calls to disperse, and security forces broke up the protest "with firmness" and restored "calm" without there being any casualties or damage to property.

    The gathering was "to protest the economic situation", they added.

    Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced on Thursday they had arrested a number of "agitators" who had called for street protests in the northeastern city of Mashhad, and that they had also broken up a "terrorist group" linked to the People Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) in southwestern Shiraz.

    NetBlocks, a website that monitors international internet outages, said online access had been restricted and disrupted for about three hours in Khuzestan around the time of the protest.

    Khuzestan is a key oil-producing region that has often complained of official neglect.

    Bordering Iraq, it is one of the few areas in Shia-majority Iran to have a large Sunni Arab community.

    Iran's economy has shrunk significantly since 2018 when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from a landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers and reimposed punishing sanctions on the country.

    The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Iran's economic woes with a temporary shutdown of the economy and reduced exports, leading to a sharp devaluation of its currency and rising inflation.

    SOURCE: News agencies