Iran police break up protest over economic woes
AFP, Friday 17 Jul 2020

Iranian police said Friday they forcefully dispersed a protest by a crowd chanting "norm-breaking" slogans in the southwest of the country over economic hardships.

"Following a call, a small number of Behbahan city's people gathered at 9 pm on Thursday to protest the economic situation," Behbahan city's police chief Colonel Mohammad Azizi said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

The police first tried to talk to the crowd "but not only did they not disperse but started shouting norm-breaking chants", he said, a term usually used by Iranian authorities to refer to anti-system slogans.

Security forces broke up the protest with "firmness", the police chief said, adding that "calm" was restored without casualties or damage to properties.

Azizi did not specify if arrests were made.

Unverified social media posts showed images and videos of dozens of people gathered in a street of the city in Khuzestan province.

Netblocks, a website that monitors shutdowns, said internet access was 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 mainly Shiite Iran to have a large ethnic Sunni Arab community.

The gathering in Behbahan came days after Iran upheld death sentences for three people linked to deadly protests last November sparked by a hike in petrol prices.

The demonstrations erupted on November 15 after authorities more than doubled fuel prices overnight, exacerbating economic hardships in the sanctions-hit country.

The protests rocked several cities and turned violent before spreading to at least 100 urban centres across Iran and being put down amid a near-total internet blackout.

Calls have spread online using the hashtag "DontExecute" for a halt to executions in the country.

Azizi urged Iranians "not to be influenced by the system's enemies" aiming "to agitate the people in the current sensitive situation".

Iran's Revolutionary Guards also announced they arrested a number of "agitators" and broke up a "terrorist group" on Thursday.

The agitators arrested in Mashhad city were "connected to anti-revolutionary groups" and had made calls for street protests.

The Guards said they were members of the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, an exiled group which Tehran considers a "terrorist cult", and were arrested in Shiraz city preventing a "subversive operation".