Iran Protest Videos Show Violent Clashes With Police, Loud Bangs Amid Chaos

Protests are continuing in southwestern Iran amid the country's worst drought in 50 years, with security forces deployed in cities across the Khuzestan province and beyond.

At least three people are believed to have been shot dead since the protests erupted a week ago, with at least one police officer reportedly among them. Officials have blamed criminals for the deaths, while opposition activists and human rights groups have blamed security forces.

The drought has left homes and businesses without reliable access to water. The shortage has also throttled Iran's hydroelectric network, causing regular blackouts in Khuzestan and elsewhere.

Videos sent to Newsweek by opposition activists on the ground purport to show hundreds of protesters marching through cities across Khuzestan, setting fires in roads to block security forces and chanting for the fall of the regime.

The videos—provided by members of the outlawed People's Mojahedin of Iran (MEK)—also appeared to show security forces clashing with protesters. In some instances, police and security agents can be seen firing what appear to be fireworks at gathered demonstrators.

In others, what sound like gunshots can be heard and protesters can be seen fleeing through the streets in panic. Newsweek was unable to independently verify the videos.

One member of the MEK's "Resistance Units" on the ground in the city of Ahvaz in Khuzestan told Newsweek that the situation is "explosive."

Iran considers the MEK a terrorist organization. The new Islamic Republic executed many MEK members in purges following the Islamic Revolution, and membership of the organization is banned in the country.

The group was listed as a terrorist organization in the U.S. until 2012. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the MEK was removed from the list because it had renounced violence. MEK leaders say they no longer engage in militant activities.

Zohre, a 25-year-old law graduate who did not wish to give her full name for fear of retribution, said: "At the beginning, the demonstrations were peaceful and there was no violence on the part of the people. But unfortunately, the regime responded with bullets."

"It started with water, but the core problem is the regime itself," Zohre said. "The regime cannot solve the real problems of the Iranian people... We've been witnessing for decades the plunder and the exploitation of the wealth of the Iranian people, the crimes of this regime. One might think that it's only the water problem, but it's absolutely not."

The protests have shaken the regime, currently undergoing a presidential handover from incumbent President Hassan Rouhani to president-elect Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner known as "The Butcher" from his time heading the country's judiciary.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday has criticized officials for inattention to water infrastructure in Khuzestan, admitting that people there are "displeased" but claiming they remain "loyal."

Rouhani, too, has backed the protesters. The president said Thursday demonstrators "have the right to speak, express themselves, protest and even take to the streets within the framework of the regulations." Rouhani blamed "opportunists" and "rioters"for the violence and the killing of demonstrators.

The NetBlocks internet monitoring service reported Wednesday a "significant regional disruption" to mobile internet access in Iran. NetBlocks noted that users in Khuzestan are heavily dependent on mobile internet access, and that the disruption is estimated to have blocked 3 to 4 percent of Iran's national mobile data connectivity.

The Human Rights News Activist Agency—the news arm of the U.S.-based Human Rights Activists in Iran group—has reported that at least 18 activists have been arrested by security forces since the protests began.

Tara Sepehri Far, Human Rights Watch's Iran researcher, said in a statement: "Government authorities need to ensure the right to peaceful assembly and stop security forces from using excessive force."

Far added: "Iranian authorities have a very troubling record of responding with bullets to protesters frustrated with mounting economic difficulties and deteriorating living conditions."

Opposition activists and human rights groups fear a repeat of the violent suppression of mass protests in Iran at the end of 2019. Then, Iranians across the country took to the streets to protest a new fuel tax. The demonstrations quickly morphed into a broader anti-regime movement.

The State Department estimated that security forces had killed about 1,500 people as they suppressed the fuel tax protests.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said this week the administration was closely following of Iranian security forces firing on protesters in the latest round of unrest.

"We support the rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and express themselves...without fear of violence, without fear of arbitrary detention by security forces," Price said.

Iranians walk past a mural in Tehran
Iranians wearing face masks walk past a mural displaying Iran's national flag in Tehran, on June 17, 2021, on the eve of the Islamic republic's presidential election. Protests are continuing in southwestern Iran amid the country's worst drought in 50 years. ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images