Iran Protests Reach Tehran, Videos Show Crowds Chanting for Fall of Regime

Protests that began in southwestern Iran last week have spread to the capital Tehran, activists said early Monday, despite the efforts of the regime to quell the unrest with a crackdown by security forces.

Marchers took to the streets in several areas of the capital on Monday. Videos sent to Newsweek by opposition activists and other clips uploaded on Twitter showed dozens of people choking roads and chanting for the fall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The protests began in the southwestern, oil-rich province of Khuzestan earlier this month. Iran's worst drought in 50 years has left parts of the province without sufficient water or electricity. Iran's hydroelectric network is buckling under the strain of drought and what regime critics say are decades of official incompetence and corruption.

One activist from the People's Mojahedin of Iran—a former militant opposition group banned in Iran and considered a terrorist organization by the regime—spoke to Newsweek from a protest on Tehran's Jomhouri Street, a large avenue in the center of the city.

Hadi, a 49-year-old engineer, told Newsweek he was among "thousands" of people on the street chanting for the fall of the regime and death to Khamenei. Though security forces were present, there were no immediate reports of clashes.

"There is no end to these protests," Hadi said, adding that the demonstrations had gone beyond water scarcity. "I think they will continue tonight, tomorrow and into the coming days...Iranian people want peace, democracy, and freedom."

Continued protests could bring a fresh government crackdown. "They are so savage," Hadi said.

But with forces sent to the southwest to meet the Khuzestan protests and the government in the midst of a presidential handover, the regime might be more hesitant in Tehran. "They are not interested in showing their violence," Hadi said.

Protests in #Iran appear to have spread to Tehran, where a group of people in the city's busy Jomhuri Street are chanting against the country's clerical rulers, telling them to "get lost".pic.twitter.com/yTrS2PhJ7q

— Kian Sharifi (@KianSharifi) July 26, 2021

As many as eight people are reported to have been killed in the protests to date, including at least one police officer, according to Amnesty International.

The regime has blamed criminals, opportunists, and separatists for the violence, though both Khamenei and outgoing President Hassan Rouhani have supported the demonstrators' right to protest.

The unrest comes as president-elect Ebrahim Raisi—a hardliner known as "The Butcher" for his role in mass executions while head of the Iranian judiciary in the 1980s—prepares to take office next month.

His victory in June's presidential election—backed by Khamenei—has been interpreted as an entrenchment of the authoritarian ideologues inside the regime. Activists say they fear a new wave of repression, and that the drought protests may prompt harsh retaliation from security forces.

These forces have reportedly used live fire to try and quell the unrest. In late 2019, regime forces used live fire to break up mass protests against a new fuel tax. The State Department said that some 1,500 people were killed.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration is watching the ongoing protests closely, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week.

"We support the rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and to express themselves," Price said. "Iranians, just like any other people, should enjoy those rights without fear of violence, without fear of arbitrary detention by security forces."

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Friday she was "extremely concerned about the deaths and injuries that have occurred over the past week, as well as the widespread arrests and detention."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh dismissed Bachelet's "interventionist" remarks and said U.S. sanctions had prevented the import of vital equipment and foreign investment for the Khuzestan water network.

Tehran, Iran skyline pictured in March 2015
This file photo shows the north Tehran skyline on March 24, 2015 in Tehran, Iran. Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images