Videos Show Security Forces Being Deployed To Iran’s Troubled South East
Videos received by Iran International TV show security forces being deployed to cities of the troubled Sistan-Baluchestan province on Thursday evening and Friday. In one video, which according to its narrator was recorded on Thursday near the city of Nain in Esfahan province, 1000km from Sistan-Baluchestan, a convoy of anti-riot police can be seen on the road to the province. The narrator claims to have also seen tanks in another location on the same road.
Officials say protests in Sistan-Baluchestan, which began on Tuesday after security forces allegedly shot ‘fuel mules’ at a border crossing with Pakistan near the city of Saravan, have ended. The ‘mules’ carry gasoline and other fuels across the border where it fetches a higher price.
But local sources claim protests have continued in some parts of Zahedan, the provincial capital. Social media users claimed shops were still closed in Saravan on Friday, with security forces heavily present in many areas.
London-based Abdollah Aref, director of the Baluch Activists’ Campaign, on Friday told BBC Persian TV that contact with activists on the ground on Friday was limited by an internet shutdown. Aref said the situation in Saravan was very tense and that there had been “extensive” arrests including of some people being treated for wounds in hospitals. Aref said activists had told him they would continue their protests.
Raha Bahraini, spokesperson of Amnesty International, also said the internet blackout had seriously limited contact with those on the ground. Bahraini said she could confirm that Revolutionary Guards had deliberately shot dead ten ‘fuel mules’ at the border crossing near Saravan on Monday [February 22]. Officials have admitted only three deaths in the incident. One police officer was killed on Thursday when protesters stormed a police station at Kurin district of the province near Zahedan, authorities say.
Several mobile network operators have shut down their internet access in various areas of the province since Wednesday evening. Mobile internet is the preferred, or more readily available connection, of most people in the province. According to official figures in August, 94 percent of Iranians have access to mobile internet while only around 11 percent use home broadband.
The Persian-language Twitter account of the US State Department on Thursday expressed concern both about “state violence” against ‘fuel mules’ and protesters in Sistan-Baluchestan, and over the internet shutdown. “We urge Iran to respect human rights and basic freedoms including freedom of expression and peaceful protests,” the State Department tweeted.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday urged Iranian authorities to transparently investigate alleged government security forces’ use of excessive force in Sistan-Baluchistan province on February 22. HRW said Iran should abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
“The authorities should hold those responsible for wrongdoing to account, appropriately compensate victims, and ensure that border guards are taking the utmost precautions to respect the right to life and other human rights,” said Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at HRW.