Hardline media in Iran claim that the United States instigated protests in Esfahan to put pressure on Tehran ahead of nuclear talks set to resume on Monday.
Ultra-hardliner Kayhan daily, financed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei Sunday claimed, "America's foot soldiers" perverted farmers’ water protest in Esfahan on Friday to "sow unrest and reap sanctions" ahead of Vienna nuclear Talks.
The newspaper claimed in a commentary that Western powers always incite unrest in Iran to "impair the resilience" of the regime and the people against US sanctions to force the regime to return to negotiate over its nuclear program.”
Farmers had been protesting in Esfahan city center for two weeks demanding their traditional water rights from the Zayabdeh Roud river, which has been mostly dry in the past decade. The call to protest on Friday came after security forces stormed the farmers' makeshift camp in the dry riverbed in the early hours of Thursday and burned their tents. Social media reports said they were given fifteen minutes by security forces to leave their tents before they went up in flames.
As people gathered on Friday to continue the protest, Security forces used tear gas, batons and pellet shots to disperse protesters whose slogans grew more and more anti-governmentlater in the day with many chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, clerical rule, and security forces.
Kayhan claimed that farmers were not involved in the Friday protests, which it said were hijacked by "paid thugs". Farmers had ended their protest on Wednesday and stayed away from the Friday protests, Kayhan claimed.
The newspaper is ardently opposed to negotiations with the West over Iran's nuclear program. In another commentary Sunday, the newspaper's chief editor, Hossein Shariatmadari, opposed any direct talks with US representatives in Vienna on Monday and said to avenge the blood of Iran's assassinated nuclear scientists including Mohsen Fakhrizadeh a year ago, Iran's envoys in the talks should continue to 'humiliate the US" by refusing direct talks.
The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC)-affiliated Fars news agency also claimed that farmers were not involved in the Friday protests. "It appears that ahead of the new round of talks for lifting sanctions, [US] democrats have once again resorted to their usual policy of "riot inside [Iran] and sanctions from outside to weaken Iran's position," Fars wrote.
The conservative Jomhouri Eslami newspaper in a commentary Sunday criticized the hardline media and called their claims a "distortion of truths". "Cracking down on people and then resorting to propaganda to distort the truth will not only fail to convince the public. It will damage people's trust in authorities and in the propaganda apparatus," it wrote.
"Deeply concerned about the violent crackdown against peaceful protestors in Isfahan. The people of Iran have a right to voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable," US State Department Spokesman Ned Price tweeted Saturday.
Videos posted on social media Friday showed thousands of protesters in the city's dry riverbed and its adjacent boulevards chanting slogans peacefully and refusing to leave despite heavy use of tear gas, firing guns in the air and paramilitary and plainclothes motorcyclists driving into crowds. As the day grew, however, reports said security forces heavy-handedly suppressed the demonstrations that had spread to nearby boulevards. Some protesters threw stones at anti-riot forces.
Iranian authorities invariably blame "thugs and hooligans" for any antigovernment protest. "It was the police who did this, don't go and claim later that they were thugs and hooligans," a wounded old man, apparently one of the farmers said in one of the videos from Esfahan protests.