Reports: Iranian Protesters Burn Down 100 Banks, Shops in Gas Protest

Protestors attend a demonstration after authorities raised gasoline prices, in the northern city of Sari, Iran, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Protesters angered by Iran raising government-set gasoline prices by 50% blocked traffic in major cities and occasionally clashed with police Saturday after a night of demonstrations punctuated by gunfire. (Mostafa …
Mostafa Shanechi/ ISNA via AP

Protests in towns and cities across Iran continued Monday despite the use of lethal force against demonstrators by the regime plus a nationwide Internet blackout.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated terrorist organization, threatened “decisive” action if the protests do not end soon.

The protests began on Friday after the Iranian government announced a 50 percent increase in the price of gasoline. The regime was apparently taken aback by the vehemence of the response, given that Iran’s state-subsidized gasoline is still among the cheapest in the world. Some protesters told reporters they were angered by the arbitrary nature of the massive price increase, the arrogance of the government in failing to prepare citizens for the hit to their wallets, and the fact that the price increase made a mockery of government propaganda that U.S. sanctions were trivial and ineffective. 

A great deal of public resentment was uncorked by the gas price increase. People took to the streets to denounce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a “dictator” who should be overthrown and cried “The enemy is here!” – a protest slogan that refutes the government’s efforts to blame all of Iran’s woes on the United States. In essence, the slogan means “the enemy is our own government, not America.”

Radio Farda saw the Iranian government on Monday attempting to minimize the scale of the demonstrations and downplay the brutality of the government response, combined with claims that the protests were led by a small band of dangerous radicals and puppets of the West:

The spokesman for President Hassan Rouhani’s administration claimed in a news conference on Monday morning that compared to the previous day there have been less protest demonstrations in Iran on Monday.

Meanwhile he claimed some demonstrators have used weapons during the previous days. Ali Rabiee, a former Intelligence Ministry operative, spoke as if he was reporting about a full war between the government and those who protest a sudden hike in the price of gasoline.

He also said that protesters took some security officers hostage but did not elaborate further. Meanwhile he declined to give away information on the casualty toll of the first three days of the protests.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) issued its first statement on the protests Monday, echoing what other senior officials have said about protests being fueled by the United States and Iranian opposition abroad. IRGC also vowed to use all means to restore order.

These portrayals of a small, insincere protest movement that is already fizzling out were strongly at variance with the heavy-handed and panicked actions taken by Tehran, including a near-total shutdown of the Internet. Some analysts called it the largest Internet shutdown ever undertaken by the Iranian regime.

Radio Farda cited underground news reports and social media posts suggesting the number of people arrested, injured, and killed by security forces is much higher than the government is willing to admit. These reports indicate some protesters were killed with precision headshots, suggesting the government is using snipers to thin the ranks of demonstrators, a brutal tactic Iranian forces also used against protesters in Iraq who are challenging its pro-Iranian government.

Radio Free Europe (RFE) on Monday said the situation on the streets is “unclear” to outside observers because most independent information has been choked off, but the news that is getting out does not look good:

Some of the few videos to make it to social media appeared to show government forces shooting at protesters.

At least five universities in the cities of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, and elsewhere were closed, while schools were also shut in more than 17 cities in at least five provinces, Iranian media reported.

The metro in Isfahan stopped operating due to lack of security.

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More than 100 banks and shops have been set on fire during the demonstrations and about 1,000 people have been arrested, the semiofficial news agency Fars reported on November 17.

A total of 36 banks were damaged in the western province of Lorestan alone, local officials said.

“Protesting is the people’s right, but protesting is different from rioting. We should not allow insecurity in the society,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday.

Rouhani insisted the gas price hike was a benevolent gesture by the government to raise more money for welfare programs and “only a few” people were protesting against them.

Ayatollah Khamenei took a harsher tone, blaming “hooligans” on the street for all injuries and loss of life. 

“All the centers of the world’s wickedness against us have cheered … The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so,” he said, pushing the regime’s view of the protesters as puppets of hostile Western governments. 

His pronouncements were evidently forceful enough to convince the Iranian parliament to scuttle a motion that would have reversed the gas price increase.

“If necessary we will take decisive and revolutionary action against any continued moves to disturb the people’s peace and security,” the IRGC threatened in a statement released on Monday. Radio Farda noted that many of the banks vandalized by protesters are linked to the IRGC.

“The United States supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them.  We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators,” the White House said in a statement released on Sunday.

“Tehran has fanatically pursued nuclear weapons and missile programs, and supported terrorism, turning a proud nation into another cautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks on a crusade for personal power and riches,” the White House added.

The German government also called on Iran to “respond to the current protests with a willingness to engage in dialogue” and “respect freedom of security and expression.” A travel advisory warning Germans in Iran to avoid large gatherings and “refrain from expressing political opinions to strangers” was issued.

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