Iran said on Tuesday that it has mobilised half a million Basijis, a paramilitary force closely affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as eyewitnesses from inside the country spoke of a vicious crackdown against anti-government protesters with close to a hundred people feared dead.
Widespread protests have gripped the country since Friday, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets across the country in defiance of the authorities. Security forces have failed to quell the unrest and a total internet blackout has been imposed to prevent the news of the protests from spreading.
A dramatic rise in the price of petrol sparked the unrest, with a litre of petrol rising from 1000 tomans ($0.10) to 3000 tomans ($0.30) on Friday night.
While the crackdown has been vicious since protests gained momentum on Friday night, the IRGC’s official entrance onto the scene will likely have dire consequences for the protesters, with the number of dead expected to rise.
The IRGC said on Monday that they would respond to any saboteurs with “decisive” and “revolutionary” manner after the Supreme Leader, the ultimate decision maker in the country, ordered security forces to restore calm and refused to bow to the demands of the protesters, whom he labelled “thugs”.
“The officials in charge of the security must fulfil their duties,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Officials from President Hassan Rouhani’s government have repeatedly reassured the public that the increase in price of petrol would not lead to higher inflation which currently stands at around 50%, leaving more than 75% of the population in need of government handouts.
The Iranian government paid $69.2 billion for fossil fuel subsidies in 2018, the highest figure in the world according to the International Energy Agency (IEA)
The country has been tightly squeezed by an ongoing economic crisis worsened by the US reimposition of crippling sanctions.
Iranian officials and state-linked media outlets have tried to portray the current dispute over the petrol prices as a class conflict.
“The rich benefit 23 times more than the poor when it comes to the petrol subsidies,” an infographic on the government-run IRNA news agency said. “The share of the poor would be paid by the government from this government scheme.”
The head of the Basij of Guilds said that 500,000 of its members would be deployed to markets across the country to prevent traders from raising prices.
“The minister of Industry, Mines and Trade contacted the Basij of Guilds via telephone and asked for assistance from us including monitoring the bazaar and we agreed to do that,” Gholam Reza Hassanpour was reported by the IRGC-affiliated outlet Tasnim News as saying.
“The authorities are trying to bring down the problems faced by the people to the minimum and most of the guilds assist the authorities but there is a small number that only take their own interests into account, and if there is no monitoring, they could take advantage of this opportunity,” he added.
The Basij force, which is used as a recruitment pool for the IRGC, is a vicious oppressive tool that has been accused of killing hundreds of protesters on previous occasions across the country. Its members also act as an effective monitoring tool to identify and arrest dissenters.
According to Iranian and Kurdish human rights organization based outside the country close to 100 people have been killed since Friday, with over one thousand people arrested.
Kurdish areas of Iran have not remained immune to the crackdown.
Rudaw spoke to two eyewitnesses in the Kurdish areas and managed to establish the identity of two victims. Daniel Ostovari was shot in the head on Sunday and succumbed to his injuries on Monday in Mariwan city, Kurdistan province. Kaveh Moahmmadi, a government employee was killed by a bullet to the heart in the city of Javanrud in Kermanshah province.
“It is chaos in Kermanshah, more than 40 people have been killed,” one eyewitness from the western city of Kermanshah told Rudaw English. “The security forces are everywhere.”
Kurdistan Human Rights Network and Hengaw Human Rights Organization both said that at least 15 people were killed in the city of Kermanshah.
As of Tuesday lunchtime, the internet blackout was still in place across Iran according to Netblocks, an group monitoring global internet access.
Update: #Iran has now been offline for 52 hours following a government-imposed internet shutdown targeting widespread public protests.
National connectivity remains at just 5% of normal levels, leaving Iranians cut off from the world #Internet4Iran⏱
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) November 18, 2019
Government-run media outlets are trying to portray the protesters as saboteurs, publishing videos on Tuesday accusing a number of protesters of using guns during the protests and accusing foreign elements of driving the demonstrations.
Kayhan, the most hardline newspaper in the country reported on Tuesday that the judiciary officials have threatened ringleaders with execution, saying that the “hangman’s noose” awaits them.
The paper says that the leaders of the protests will be charged with armed rebellion against Islamic rule, the punishment for which is execution under Iranian penal code.
The international community, including the US, have condemned the crackdown against the protesters but the Iranian authorities remain defiant and say they are not going to give into the demands of the protesters.
Source » rudaw