Angry protests against water shortages and deteriorating economic conditions in Iran have spread to the streets of Tehran, as demonstrators in the capital openly display discontent with the country's Islamic leadership by chanting "Death to the dictator."
RFE/RL's Radio Farda cited videos and text posted on social media that indicate a protest rally was staged during the morning of July 26 on Jomhuri Islami Avenue in central Tehran.
Tehran's Deputy Governor Hamidreza Goodarzi confirmed that the protest had taken place on July 26. He said the reason for the demonstration was the "lack of electricity."
But RFE/RL reports that the Tehran demonstrators also expressed support for protesters in Khuzestan and other Iranian cities who have staged defiant rallies since July 15 over water shortages.
In one video from Tehran, protesters expressed discontent with the conservative Islamic clerics who control political life in Iran -- chanting: "Cannons, tanks, fireworks, mullahs must go." In other videos, young demonstrators chanted "Shame on Khamenei, your country" and "Let go!" -- referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Still, others chanted: "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran."
That slogan has been chanted for decades by those who oppose the Iranian government's policies of providing financial aid and weapons to Palestinian militant groups and Hizballah fighters in Lebanon. Iran is facing its worst drought in at least 50 years -- a natural event that has been exacerbated by poor water management policies, which have hurt agriculture and left reservoirs in the country with little water. The loss of electricity from hydroelectric dams has also contributed to weeks of power blackouts in parts of Iran. The spread of protests to Tehran also comes as Iran struggles through another wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy continues to suffer under strict U.S. sanctions. Thousands of workers in Iran's oil industry have also launched strikes for better wages and working conditions. Since protests against water shortages began on July 15 in Khuzestan and spread to other towns and cities, at least five demonstrators have been shot dead across Iran. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the deaths were the result of apparent "excessive force" by Iranian authorities.
HRW has urged Iranian authorities to "transparently" investigate the reported deaths and hold those responsible to account. The U.S.-based nongovernmental rights group says Iranian officials also should "urgently address long-standing grievances on access to water in the country." "Iranian authorities have a very troubling record of responding with bullets to protesters frustrated with mounting economic difficulties and deteriorating living conditions," said Tara Sepehri Far, an Iran researcher at HRW.