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Farmers’ Protest in Isfahan: Latest News and Background

By: MECRA Iran Correspondent.

Large-scale protests by farmers in Iran’s Isfahan Province began on the morning of Friday, November 26th and continued until the evening. Footage published on social media show police firing tear gas and bullets to disperse the protesters.

The spread of images of elderly farmers and women being injured sparked a wave of anger among Isfahan's youth and brought them to streets to join the protests.

Mobile internet was shut down by the authorities, and ADSL connections disrupted to prevent the sharing of images on social media.

Residents of the areas affected received SMS messages from the authorities, with the following content:

“ Warning: Any virtual activity in support of illegal gatherings and the publication of a call under the pretext of protesting against water shortages in Isfahan and other provinces, is considered a crime and an action against national security. The removal of criminal content is necessary and enforceable. Violators will be prosecuted if this warning is repeated and ignored. - The Center for Countering Organized Crime.“

“ Dear fellow citizen. Considering your presence in the location of unrest and the possibility of injury - please leave this location immediately and refrain from traveling in this area. -Deputy for crime prevention, Isfahan “

Deputy Governor for Political and Security Affairs, Mohammad Reza Janantari said “A full report on the developments in Isfahan in the coming days will be presented by law enforcement officials. Certain individuals tried to hold rallies in the city of Isfahan. Due to the illegal nature of these gatherings, police prevented them, tensions arose, but the situation has now returned to normal thanks to the efforts of law enforcement. “

Hassan Karami, commander of the Isfahan Special Police Unit (NAJA) has confirmed that “67 people have been arrested so far during Friday's riots in the city.

These people were arrested by "undercover intelligence agents of the Special Unit with documentation and in accordance with the legal procedure" and were among the "main agents and motivators".

“Two of the injured are in critical condition and reported being hospitalized in the ICU.” he added.

During the protests, a group, which Karami referred to as "insurgents and opportunists," used explosives and shotguns against and security forces, he asserted.

Videos posted by local residents show the security forces attacking protesters with batons, tear gas and bullets.

in one of the released videos the security forces ram into an elderly couple with a motorcycle.

In another video, a 75 year old farmer is seen wiping blood from his eyes after being injured by a blast from a shotgun fired by a member of the security forces.

The protesters chanted slogans such as “ Death to the Dictator- Don’t be afraid. We’re all together” – “Shame On you” (referring to Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei)- “We have come to fight the supreme leader”- “Down with Khamenei”- and “If steel wants water, the farmer wants bread”.

The spokesman of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, stated that there were no injuries among the emergency forces of the province in these incidents. He added: "Minor damage was inflicted on two ambulances, the extent of these damages has not been estimated yet and only the windows of these vehicles appear to have been broken."

According to reports received by Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), at least 214 people, including 13 children, were arrested following the protests. Most of the detainees were initially transferred to the headquarters of the Sahib Al Zaman IRGC base and the Basij Qudusi base. A number of these citizens were then transferred to other locations, including Isfahan Prison, Khomeini Shahr Prison, and Isfahan Women's Penitentiary.

According to local sources in Isfahan, some of the elements involved in the suppression of the Protests were Afghans from the IRGC-linked Fatemiyoun Brigade.

This is not the first time that the Iranian regime has made use of Fatemiyoun and other non-Iranian forces to suppress protests. In November 2019, during massive protests in Khouzestan province and elsewhere in the south west of the country, the Iraqi Shia militias of the Hashd Al Shaabi forces were among the forces used to suppress the protests.

One resident of Isfahan told MECRA that “My son has an Afghan friend who was called to suppress the people of Isfahan, he said if I do not go I will be expelled from Iran.”

2. The history of farmers protests in Isfahan, 2016-2021

Due to drought and poor water management, Iran faces many challenges. In recent years drought has hit Iranian farmers hard in many provinces including Isfahan province. Isfahan is one of the major cultural and economic centers of Iran. Protests by local farmers have resulted.

In November 2016, farmers stationed their tractors at the entrance of Isfahan to protest.

In the same year, Friday prayers were a launching point for demonstrations, with protesters chanting slogans before prayers and turning their backs on the qibla.

In 2018, Isfahan residents protested a lack of water along the water transmission line to Yazd and then clashed with security forces who had come to suppress them.

In 2020, In protest of non-payment of damages and non-provision of water rights, demonstrators beheaded cattle and dumped milk on the street.

Isfahan has formed a central base of support for the regime. Many high-ranking Revolutionary Guards and top officials in the country hail from Isfahan. Major General Hossein Salami, for example, commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is from this area. Isfahan holds the highest number record for military and security officials.

Many of these officials were born in farming families.

The Zayanderud is the largest and most water-rich river in the Central Plateau of Iran, which originates in the Zagros mountains to the west of Isfahan and ends in Gavkhooni swamp to the east.

The Zayanderud, unlike many rivers in Iran, which are seasonal, had a significant flow throughout the year, but it has begun to dry up before reaching the city of Isfahan because of excessive water extraction. In the early 2010s, the lower reaches of the river dried up completely after several years of seasonal drought. This river has always had a special and exceptional position as a vital, civilization building artery in the central plateau of Iran.

An expert of wheat management, based at the Isfahan Jihad Agricultural Organization in 2019 said “ this year, wheat production in this province has decreased by about 65% compared to previous years due to the lack of water and the decrease in rainfall.”

Illegal upstream withdrawals, water transfer to another basin, growing population density, the addition of some sensitive and strategic industries such as refineries, petrochemicals and power plants, and the relative decrease in rainfall are other reasons for the gradual drying up of the Zayanderud.

With its drying up, not only have all the economic and social activities of the residents of Isfahan and its farmers been affected, but this is now having profound political consequences at the regional and national levels.

The issue of water crisis in Isfahan province is an issue that seems to have been created over the past years due to mismanagement and wrong use of the river.

Mehdi Toghyani, a member of the Economic Commission of the Islamic Consultative Assembly said that “The accumulation of imprudence over the past twenty years has made this a complex matter; Now we have reached a point where solving the problem is not easy.”

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