An overwhelming presence of security forces prevented a large protest gathering in Abadan Monday night, but demonstrations took place in other Iranian cities.
Videos and reports published on social media show tens of security forces on each street, preventing movement of people in Abadan, and the government resorting to tear gas for dispersing crowds before gatherings could get larger. In some videos firing of military weapons are also heard but news coming out of Abadan is sketchy.
Disruption of internet access by the government in the restive Khuzestan province where Abadan is located has drastically reduced the flow of information about ongoing events. Cutting access to the Internet is a routine practice during protests to prevent information from spreading to other parts of the country and videos of government violence being shred.
Reports by activists on Monday spoke of many arrests in Abadan and other cities in Khuzestan. Some of these arrests target whole families if one member is seen in the protests.
But protests took place in Bushehr port city on the Persian Gulf and in the capital Tehran and some suburbs, despite a heavy presence of security forces, who appear both as special anti-riot troops and plainclothesmen who mingle near the protesters. Pockets of protesters defied security forces and chanted “Death to the dictator” and other slogans against the ruler of the Islamic Republic Ali Khamenei. They also chanted, “It is a lie America is our enemy, Our enemy is right here.”
Protests began a week ago in the south-western, oil-rich province after a 10-story building collapsed killing and trapping dozens of people. So far, authorities say they have pulled out 34 bodies and an equal number is estimated to be missing.
They also claimed that the owner was among the dead, which many people did not believe, as it quickly became clear that he was well-connected with powerful officials and some witnesses claimed they had seen him leaving the building before it collapsed. Authorities who had said immediately after the incident that the owner, Hossein Abdolbaghi was arrested, changed the story the next day and presented a badly damaged corpse as evidence of his death. Rumors began circulating that he fled to Turkey.
Evidence of systematic corruption at all levels of government has been piling up for years, which coupled with deteriorating economic conditions drive many people to question the legitimacy of the government.
The central government in Tehran was also slow to sympathize with the people of Abadan and send rescue reinforcements but was able to dispatch more security forces anticipating protests. Khamenei failed to mention the incident for three days and then issue a message of condolences to Abadan.
But the incident came after protests in mid-May against rising prices had already rocked the province and a tense situation prevailed in western and south-western Iran.
Activists and observers have been wondering if Tehran and other large cities would join the protests. First signs of defiance emerged Monday after thousands of people who gathered in Tehran’s Azadi stadium for a match chanted slogans in support of protests in Abadan and repeating the same popular chants of ‘death to the dictator’ and ‘America is not our enemy’. Later in the night videos showed sporadic demonstrations in the capital’s suburbs.