Security forces in Esfahan, Iran's third largest city, blocked roads and anti-riot special forces on motorcycles attacked protesters Friday, firing tear gas.
Videos posted on social media Friday morning show thousands of protesters in the city's dry riverbed and its adjacent boulevards chanting slogans and refusing to leave despite heavy use of tear gas, firing guns in the air and paramilitary and plainclothes motorcyclists driving into crowds. Some social media users claim protesters are being targeted with birdshots.
Farmers in Esfahan province came to the provincial capital two weeks ago and set up camp in the dry Zayandeh Roud riverbed in center of Esfahan, a city of four million, demanding water for irrigation. Last Friday, tens of thousands of city residents joined them in a large protest that authorities did not interfere with, as it was the anniversary of the November 2019 bloody protests. The government probably did not want any bad publicity on the anniversary.
Some videos Friday showed people who have been injured including a young man with blood on his face holding a handkerchief to his eye while shots are heard in the background. In another video an old man is seen also holding a handkerchief to his injured eye while a young police officer tries to help him. "Allow Muslims, the people see this [injury]," the old man who wants people to see his eye repeats
"Fear not, fear not, we are all united," protesters are seen in one of the videos chanting while another video shows some protesters throwing stones, others cheering and booing, and a small group of security forces and plainclothesmen fleeing in the dry riverbed. A third video shows security forces charging against the crowd of protesters on foot and on motorcycles in the riverbed while hundreds lining the banks of the river chant "You have no shame".
In preparation for the protest planned Friday, security forces including riot police and armored vehicles deployed to Esfahan on Thursday and closed some streets to traffic. Earlier on Thursday, security forces attacked the farmers' makeshift camp in the dry riverbed set up two weeks ago and burned their tents, bulldozed the remains, and arrested some protesters. State-run broadcaster (IRIB), however, in a report Thursday morning alleged that "opportunists" were responsible for burning the tents and claimed that some were arrested but no evidence was produced.
State media also reported Thursday that farmers' protests had finished after an agreement with the authorities to resolve their problems. The state-run television said Thursday security forces had only "managed the scene" and dispersed the farmers afters their tents were set on fire by two saboteurs. The political deputy of Esfahan’s governor said Thursday that any further protests would be attributed to “troublemakers” and “those not related to farmers”. Social media users reported Thursday that many people had received text messages from security agencies warning them not to convene where protests were planned to take place Friday.
Protesters have also been chanting in support of unity with the people of the neighboring Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiari Province where the capital Shahr-e Kord has also seen extensive water protests in the past few day. "This is Esfahan, Supporter of Chahar Mahal," they chanted.
The Water Company of Yazd Province Thursday evening said the pipes transferring water from Esfahan to Yazd had been destroyed, leaving Yazd without drinking water. A video posted on Twitter shows a crowd, apparently Esfahan farmers who have broken the pipe before, chanting Allah-u Akbar (God is Great) and water gushing out a pipe in an area outside the city. The government in recent years has diverted the Zayandeh Roud waters to Yazd, an arid region, to develop industries.
In Shahr-e Kord Thursday hundreds of protesters chanted behind the closed gate of the provincial governor's office, demanding the governor to come out of the building, booing security forces and ripping a banner of the Basij paramilitary, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).